Ep. 242: EdChoice Chats – A Discussion with Ulcca Joshi Hansen About New Opportunities for Ed Reform

March 5, 2021

Ulcca Joshi Hansen, founder of Educating Potential, joins us to discuss the direction of education in a post-pandemic world.

Brian McGrath: Hello, welcome to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Brian McGrath. I’m here today with Ulcca Hansen, who’s joining us from Denver, Colorado. And Ulcca is a great educational thought leader that I’ve gotten to know over the last few months. She first joined us for an event we did back in April when pandemic season had hit on us very hard. And we had a great time talking then, and so we have continued that relationship now. And she joined us at a recent event where we talked about how the pandemic and the new conditions around K-12 education might’ve opened up some opportunity for education reformers to talk to a new audience. And so I asked her to come on today to talk a little more about that. Ulcca, why don’t you start by giving us a little bit of your background and tell us what you’re working on now, and then we’ll jump into our conversation.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Great. Thanks, Brian. And thanks for having me, I’m really excited to be here. My name is Ulcca Joshi Hansen, and I’m the founder of an organization called Educating Potential. So right now I’m a consultant and a researcher on different projects. But as a summary, I would say that my career has been devoted to really understanding the different ways in which cultures and communities educate their kids. That there’s a conventional more industrial model approach that we have, and then there’s a different way that I think of as a more human-centered liberatory approach. And so my career has really been researching and advocating for schools that operate in this more transformed, I think, future-facing way that reflects what we know about human development, what we know about learning. And I think what we know about the jobs of tomorrow.

Brian McGrath: Well, you sound like a perfect person to talk to about this topic. We’re going to talk about a little bit, and I’ll refer back to that conversation we had back in April. Which we had gathered, I don’t know, 10 or 15 different people and were just talking about, OK, there’s some immediate needs that the pandemic has caused. And that we need to figure out, how do we get kids technology? How do we make sure they’re taken care of? Fulfilling some of those obligations that school typically does. But the conversation we had was more about, what is going to happen after this all either settles in or passes by? And I think there’s been a lot of changes made to education during these pandemic times. Some of them, like remote learning, have become one forced upon everybody, and everybody’s had to learn how to do it.

Hybrid learning has taken on its own personality. And you have things like micro schools and learning pods, and all kinds of other things that families and districts and schools are doing to manage through this time. What do you think of the things that are happening now almost as a course of pandemic related causes, what do you think will stick around, and what might go by the wayside? And I guess a side question would be, how much do you think people want these things to stick around? Or how much do they want to revert back to whatever normal was for them in early 2020?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah. I think it’s going to be a mix, right? I think in many ways as a society we’ve come to see and understand the really big role that organized public education in schools play in the lives of our communities, and in particular, in helping and supporting families and children who have needs that extend beyond just learning. Right? I think we are going to see schools opening back up. We are, I think, going to see parents sending their kids back, the vast majority sending their kids back. I know as a parent, school is where my kids are with friends, and they socialize, and they do so much more than just cover content. But I do think parents have had the opportunity to see behind the veil of education a bit during the pandemic. Some of that is the type of content, the quality of the content, and ideas and questions that their kids are being asked to engage with.

I think the challenges that they’ve seen their schools and districts have to pivot in ways that I think for parents don’t always make sense, right? What has made this so hard? And then I think it’s also having a better sense of how their own child’s needs are or are not being met by the school. And so I think what is not going to change is that you are going to have parents a lot more thoughtful and a lot more intentional about advocating for and paying attention to what’s happening in their kids’ learning, even when their kids are going back to school. Because I think we’ve just been doing it. We’ve been more involved in it on a day-to-day basis.

I think we probably are going to see a proliferation of learning pods. I think they might take the form of microschools for parents that have decided, for my kid, this big comprehensive school or this big program doesn’t work. And I really want to try and find a way to have a program that’s more intimate. And I think people are seeing the ways in which they can more easily connect with others in their communities and neighborhoods who are interested in this to put together their own piece. And I think this is going to put some pressure on districts to figure out how to handle demands that I think might come from parents around having a bit more autonomy and a bit more ability to shape their children’s education.

And I think the reaction to this and some of the suggested responses are going to fall along predictable political and ideological lines. And I will say, I hope that’s not where we go. Because I think we need to move beyond the idea of just the public education system, or unions are this big behemoth that we need to take apart. And that we just need to take money out of the public system and give it to parents and let them make choices. I think we have seen how important the public education system is to the fabric of our communities and to our society. Right? I think the election and the larger context of our world over the last year has made it really evident that there’s an important role to be played by public education, and having this shared set of experiences.

And I do think that for the last 10, 15 years, whenever there have been real efforts to try and push the system towards change, we’d had all these responses like, oh, well we can’t possibly not have kids going into school, or we can’t possibly not test them every year. We can’t possibly not evaluate teachers every year. And all of a sudden the pandemic has upended and taken away a lot of these things that we always thought were unmutable. And so what I hope will happen is that we’ll be able to step back and really think about how the openings that the pandemic has provided will provide some room. Right? I don’t think we have to change the whole system overnight at the end of the pandemic, but I hope it will give some room and some ability to give people flexibility, the people who really want to build something new, to really play with that. And to invent the new ways of doing things that would allow this different, more transformed set of experiences to emerge in the public system.

Brian McGrath: I think that’s a great point, because I’ve got three kids in school and we’ve bounced around from virtual only to hybrid. And now we’re back to virtual, based all on the local concerns of health and staffing and things like that. But one of the things I’ve wondered a lot, and I’ve talked to other parents about too is, if there is this new flexibility, how does that play out in everyday life? Right? How do we say, all right, well I’m going to go do a learning pod, but I still want to get accredited? Or I want to get a graduation certificate, or I want to be able to play on the school team, or whatever it may be. I think all that stuff.

And I think your point about everybody not retreating to old battle lines right away would be super helpful if we just embrace the moment a little bit and said, hey, this has been hard on everybody. What can we learn from it and make better of the whole situation? So speaking of that, I know you’re in Denver, I believe. I mean, how’s Denver handled this? What have you seen? And I mean, like the districts, you got a lot of choice in Denver, so I’m sure that complicates some things. But how are parents handling it, how are schools handle it, public and private? What are you seeing in your area?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah. Well I’m always a little wary of playing sideline quarterback, because I know that everyone who is in the district and everyone who was attempting to find solutions were balancing a lot of different interests. And Denver is also interesting, as you said, because we have a lot of autonomous schools. And I can’t remember the exact percentage, but over a third of our schools, if not close to a half of our schools are either charter or sit inside of zones, innovation zones. Where they have been given autonomies from many of the usual requirements of schools. And so I think I was surprised that we weren’t able to take advantage of that fact, because I was seeing and hearing some really interesting thinking going on in some of those quarters. And instead of allowing different schools, different zones to take different tack on their approach to the pandemic and how to handle it, the district decided that it was going to have a very uniform set of policies.

So I’ll give a specific example, right? We’re a city where our weather would have allowed kids to go back in August and stay outdoors, in outdoor learning schools through mid-October. It’s two and a half months, that would have been time for relationships to be built, for routines to have been established, to provide support and make contact with kids and families that we knew were most likely to be at risk when we went totally online. And there was a lot of effort being made in different quarters to make that happen. And I think no one asked the right question around equity. I appreciated that equity was what was driving the consideration. But the question that was asked was, can every school do this? So can every child have a school tent put up outside of their school and have outdoor learning? And the immediate answer was no, because everybody didn’t have a field, or everybody didn’t have the room, or whatever.

And I wish that we had asked, how do we make it possible for every school in the city to do outdoor learning? Because if we had asked that question, all of a sudden we may have seen that we would have used empty restaurants, empty businesses. We might’ve used parks. We might’ve gotten the city to close the streets around schools. Right? We might’ve gotten people to donate tents. Instead of asking how, we immediately assumed we couldn’t do it inside of the constraints that we thought were there. And I think that was a real loss, because at the end of the day Denver has been virtual. They did bring back K through two kids for a little while. They never brought back middle schoolers and high schoolers. They didn’t bring back sixth and ninth graders who are in those transition years, and so were going into completely new schools and had no social networks, and didn’t know the teachers.

I think Denver’s probably done about as well as most districts have done, but I think what was a little bit sad for me was that it was a size and a scale. And our community, I would have hoped, would have been small enough for us to be able to do something slightly different. And I think, Brian, you and I talked about this. The one other thing that I think we saw was the unintended consequence of totally open school choice in a place like Denver. So because we have totally open school choice, most kids don’t go to school in their neighborhood. So there’s not a neighborhood school that is your middle school, elementary, high school. And a situation like this, it’s always interesting. If there had been some geographic boundary around a school that had been that school’s neighborhood, it would have been really interesting to see how they might’ve been able to gear up the folks in that immediate vicinity to do something. Right?

Kids could’ve walked to school or biked to school, or you could have had businesses donate, or whatever it is. And because that’s not how our district is organized, I think we saw what happens when you have this scattershot approach to putting kids into schools so that a school exists. But when it needs external supports, there’s no natural community that can be that support for a school. And so I think it’s just one of those interesting things to think about, right? The unintended consequences of some of the things that we push for with the best of intentions, and the pandemic brought home of the downsides of that.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. I remember us talking about that, and that was a very interesting point I had not considered really. That yes, there was no central, like you said, geographic rallying point because everybody has their own thing in mind. Which makes me think of another point, and this happened today. So in Indianapolis, where we’re based, EdChoice is based, now they’re shutting down all the schools again. And there’s now a, just today, there was a story about a coalition of parents who are now rebelling against this. Not just in the passive, this stinks, we want our kids in school way, but they’re actually getting organized. And they’re starting petitions, and they’re getting social media petitions and things like that going. Anyway, it strikes me that this could rally a bunch of different kinds of folks together, because one of the things that brought up in the article was the parents who started it actually had their kids in private schools. And their argument was, look, our private schools are not having any of these issues, we ought to be able to go.

And then there were some people saying, well it doesn’t really matter if you’re a public or private. Because in our public schools we aren’t having these same issues either, we need to be able to go to school. So it seems like it’s created an interesting coalition of people. Do you think that might happen in other places? Is there an opportunity now for people who want to see education look a little different, who maybe would not have joined forces in the same way, is there a chance now that they all might come together and say, we may not have the exact angle of mind, but we want to have something different than what we have? And maybe, who might some of those kinds of strange bedfellows, as we might call them, be?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah. I think the ones that naturally come to mind, we’ve seen families of children who have either formal IEPs, 504s or learning differences, right? Who I think are seeing the schools haven’t necessarily been able to meet their kids’ needs. I think you’ve got an upper middle class set of families that all of a sudden had to sit down, look at their budgets and reprioritize. And saw, wow, okay, well maybe I can’t afford to send my kid into a learning pod. Which, when I added up for the cost of the year is almost the cost of a private school. So either I want to go private, or because there isn’t enough space, we need to figure out how to develop new micro schools. I think we’ve seen communities of color, I know in Denver our black community and our Latinx community have been highly impacted, disproportionately impacted by the virus.

And so they have also been communities that have been most reluctant to send their kids back into schools. And there have been really interesting efforts made to recruit retired teachers in the community to bring kids together and give them a curriculum, and give them an education that is really culturally responsive and culturally grounded. I think there are communities of color and other communities that haven’t been served well inside the public system that might go, huh, all right. How do we take advantage of some of the flexibilities? And then I think there are those of us who really believe that this opportunity to think differently about what we count as learning, about where learning can happen. Right? Really needs to be a bigger part of the conversation in our conventional systems. So I have one child who’s decided he wants to build a gaming system, because he’s really huge on Xbox and the games. And I have another who, through Grey’s Anatomy, decided that he wanted to be a surgeon and bought a pig dissection kit, and has learned to suture. And is doing his own thing there.

That’s learning. That’s amazing learning. So is, you and I were talking about seeing all of our kids a little bit more independent and able to cook for themselves, and able to organize their days. Those are all really important skills. And I get a little bit disappointed when I hear the conversation continually being about all the ways in which kids are losing learning time. Right? And they’re not learning. I’m like, they are learning. They are learning different things. They might be learning them in different ways, but they are learning. And I think for those of us, and a lot of families who are seeing this, I think to be able to open the door to the question to say, why doesn’t this count as learning? And, where does this fit into this broader conception of education that we have?

In terms of kids not only learning academic content, but learning really important skills and mindsets and content, right? That are about real life and about the world. Where do those fit in? So I think there is this new coalition of people that may be open to the idea of different types of choices and different types of arrangements for education than the usual coalition. I’m curious to see where that goes.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. You’re right. That you learn anywhere, or learn… Yeah, I don’t know. There’s some phrase about those things that does strike me as something we should embrace wholeheartedly. Even in more direct ways, you’re right. Your kid’s learning, saying, “Hey, I want to build a gaming system because that’s interesting.” It’s actually very useful. I’ve had the fights with my children recently, I’m sure you have too. Why do I need to learn X subject? It means nothing to me now. And you’ve proven it doesn’t mean anything to you either. So it’s sort of like, yeah, why can’t we incorporate more things? And I guess that will take a different mindset from a lot of people, whether it’s regulators or policy leaders, or advocates thinking about what is important to learn. And maybe that involves higher ed too. Like, hey, you require all these classes. Why?

Maybe you should count different things. Or whether it’s other kinds of learning, ongoing learning institutions. Which I think you’re seeing more of that. I know around here I’ve seen at least several, this is all in the technology space, but there’s different coding academies, for example. Or businesses that say, don’t waste your time going to that four year college and getting a bunch of debt, come here and we’ll give you a skill you can use. I think that’ll be interesting to see how that plays out even more.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yep.

Brian McGrath: I think it’d be interesting too, to see how one of the groups of people I think could be more engaged in this conversation about education reform or educational choice is that middle-class parent who probably always liked their public school. And were happy with what was going on there, whether they really thought about it much or not. But now they’ve sort of, as you said earlier, seeing the underside of it all. And maybe are going to go, “Oh, that’s not quite what I thought it was.” And I don’t think that means you have to indict your public school as being some sort of terrible place. But I just think it has opened the eyes of people to say, maybe there is something more out there that we should be asking for. I know that’s something we’re going to be looking at. I mean, do you think that’s a… Is this the time where we get to wake everybody up to, hey, this should be different than it is. If only because it should be different because it’d be better, not because anybody’s doing anything wrong. What do you think about that?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: I don’t know if you’re familiar with, it’s a change adoption curve that’s often used to talk about innovation. And so it’s a bell curve. And on the far left-hand side you have what they call the innovators or the inventors. You have the next big swath that’s called the early adopters. And then you’ve got this chasm, which is this idea of crossing the chasm. You’ve got to get enough people interested in whatever this new thing is for it to become a dominant thing in the market. And the way I think about this moment, is that we have expanded the percentage of people on that far left-hand side of the curve. So maybe before, I’m making these numbers up, but maybe before it was 5% of people that were seeing, gosh, this isn’t working, we want something different.

I think what the pandemic has done, is all of a sudden pushed it so that we have like 15%, right? Of people who are coming in from lots of different places to our conversation before. Right? People who are seeing that from the higher ed space there’s a lot that’s not working here. Employers that are seeing it’s not working. Parents who might not before have seen what wasn’t working. So I think any type of innovation, and this is true in technology, and I think it’s true in human systems as well. In order for something new to take root, we have to have created space for people who are wanting to do that innovative work or that transformative work to answer the questions that legitimately have to be answered for us to make this a big part of the system. So, what does it mean to credential learning if it’s not happening inside a building under the eyes of a licensed teacher, in the form of an approved curriculum, right?

What does it mean to do that? What does it mean for higher education to do admissions in a way that is fair and robust if they don’t have GPA’s or AP tests, or SATs to look at? What does it look like for us to think differently about accountability if we know that tests aren’t the best way to do that? And there are now demands from communities that schools be responsive to their children, their families, and the unique needs of communities. Right? All of these are really legitimate questions for a public education system to have to answer if it’s taking public dollars and using them.

And I think at the end of this pandemic, what would be ideal is if we could find the places where there’s been this, doesn’t have to be a groundswell, but where there’s been an expansion of the coalition of folks that really are willing to say, we want to see something different. We’re willing to give some research and development space for the people who want to do this to actually build out new ways of doing things. And we’re going to give them time and a certain amount of financial support to do it. And to really, in an intentional and organized way, go through the process in those places of inventing the new systems and structures that are aligned and mutually reinforcing, that let something new actually emerge.

And I think it’s going to take lots of different formats. That’s the really interesting thing about this transformed approach to education, is we mostly think of education that’s happening in a school. And so we play with the pieces of the school, right? Maybe we have open classrooms or we have block schedules, or we have something. But I think this transformed approach can happen in tons of different ways. Some of it may happen in things that look like school buildings. Some of it may happen in learning pods. Some may happen in modular micro schools that work together to take advantage of economies of scale. There are lots of different ways that a different way of thinking about learning and education could play out. And I think coming out of the pandemic, that would be the ideal thing. And I think it’s also a way for folks to find each other from across these different silos that have existed, right? The people who are in this mindset of wanting to do something different.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. Essentially I was listening to something the other day, some podcast about behavior change and how hard it really is. Right? And the science is not perfect. But they were discussing this particular one about how one of the ways to change behavior, whether it’s diet or sleep habits, or whatever your behavior is you’re trying to change, they talk about… And I forget, there’s actually a guy who invented this phrase, maybe it’s [Lewelland 00:22:32] or something like that. But anyway, he talks about, if you think about you or the behavior you’re trying to change is like a big arrow going left to right. And then in its face are a bunch of friction points, so think of little arrows going right to left. And one of the first things you try to do is remove those friction points and then make whatever behavior you’re trying to change a little easier to change by just getting rid of certain things.

So maybe it’s, “Hey, I’m going to not buy chips anymore in my house, that way I don’t find myself snacking.” So that’s just one example. But anyway, I’m just curious what you think about, what you were just talking about is getting people together to make these changes or act differently. What do you think are going to be the friction points we’ll need to try to eliminate to let change happen? So, is it just our old inability to change because people don’t like change, or is it something else? What do you think are the friction points we can try to alleviate so that these parents who want to try something different could do so?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think some of it is about leaving some of our old debates behind, right? I think it’s about, let’s leave the debate for three seconds about whether charter schools are good or evil. Let’s leave behind for a second the question of whether it’s the teacher’s union fault, or it’s somebody else’s fault. I think that would be one. Is actually, let’s ask the question, assuming that this new way can happen inside of different governance models, there are lots of different people, including teachers, who would benefit from. And I think during this pandemic are seeing that they would benefit from different ways to engage in their profession.

Brian McGrath: Right.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: I think accountability and outcomes are a huge one. I think as long as we continue to articulate the outcomes that we want from education around coverage of academic standards, that follows a really linear pacing, and has to happen in the same order and the same time and the same rate for every single kid, I think that’s going to be a problem. And I think our accountability systems are so deeply tied to that notion of outcomes that I think it’s problematic. Right? So that if we want to open something up, we have to be willing to say, that by the time kids get to 12th grade they may actually look different. They may have had different passions, different things they learn, different areas they went into depth in. And we also have to accept, because this is what’s true, that no one learns everything at the same rate, the same pace, the same time, the same way.

So I think we’ve got to think differently and let people out of our current accountability systems. Which doesn’t mean there can be no accountability, right? Those are two very different things. And I think we’re going to need and want to open up who gets to be an educator, or who counts as an educator so that it’s not… The barrier right now, right, is that you have to have graduated college, you have to have gone and gotten a certification. And oftentimes you have to have a master’s to be paid. But again, if we’re thinking about a very different way of doing education, where young people are driving it and adults are helping to facilitate it, right? It’s really interesting. There are elders in communities that would be really great learning guides and learning facilitators who right now can’t go in. So those are some immediate things that come in, and they’re policies we’ve created. And therefore, I think they’re also policies that we can suspend for a little while and allow people to put in place different types of accountability metrics for themselves.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. No, that’s all great. So hey, let’s just get those things done and we’ll be off to a great start. Right?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: That’s right. It’s so simple, so simple.

Brian McGrath: I know you do a lot of different things that you talked about the beginning. What are you most passionate about right now in the education world that you’re working on, or that you’ve seen, or that you’re curious about? Whether you’re working directly on it or not. What gets you excited about education right now?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: For the last few years, I did a research project about four years ago. And if I had to summarize it, I would say that I think of schools in three buckets. I think of our factory model, industrial model schools. I think of this big middle bucket that I think of as innovative, reform, whole child schools. Where we sort of bolt on fixes to the factory model because we know that there’s things wrong with the factory model. And then there’s this third bucket that I think of as these human-centered, liberatory, transformed approaches to learning. And one of the things I’m really interested in right now is we know that different schools in different districts in different places have pivoted with different levels of success. And I’m really curious to take a look at the places that have done a good job pivoting, to understand what they have in common and what makes them distinct from the places that found it really hard to pivot.

And I suspect that there’s going to be an overlay between those schools and those districts and that third bucket, right, of schools that I think of as more transformed. So I am curious, and there’s an effort that NGLC is spearheading with Lowenstein to actually do that project over the next year. I’m working on a book which will come out summer of 2021, that is really exploring a lot of the ideas that I’ve talked about today. Which is, when we dig down into it, what is different about this transformed approach to learning? And what’s the theory of change of how we get there? Because I think it’s very different from how we have tended to think about change before, where we decide some small group of think tank, policy advocates think about the policy that’s going to be great and we implement it.

And then we tell everyone to do it, right? I think this is going to be a very emergent set of change where it’s coming from communities and families, and we’re going to be building new ways of doing things and then have policies. And then I think for me the third one is just, I’m seeing pockets of conversations where there are funders and there are folks like EdChoice, right? That are saying, what did this moment open up? And for me it’s about, can we wedge something in this opening to stop it from closing all the way, right? To make more room and more space for exactly what we’ve been talking about. Which is, folks who really want to think differently to come together and actually make that. And I think there may be dollars and time and different groups of advocates coming together over the next six months to a year to make that happen.

And so I’m excited to see what happens and be there to support it. I think for those of us who’ve spent… I sometimes say I felt like I was in the wilderness of education for the first 15 and 16 years of my career. Right? Because I came in the early 2000s when I think reform had a very specific connotation. And for somebody like me who’s really imagined it to be much more the way that we’ve been talking about it today, I think it’s exciting to think that we might be at a moment.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, I agree. I mean, those last few things you said in particular. I was talking to some state education leader not long ago, and they said basically, “Hey, what proposals would you guys have for EdChoice to take advantage of what’s going on now?” And I said, “Well my proposal would be, go listen to the people who are actually doing cool stuff in your state and let them tell you what to do. Don’t rely on EdChoice to be the…” Not that we don’t want to have an idea or some things to offer, but go find out what great stuff’s happening in your community and in your state, and incentivize it. Don’t try to get them to figure out how to fit within your rubric, make your rubric fit what they’re trying to do for their own communities.

I think you’re right, it’s exciting. One last thing I’d be curious about, and it takes us back to the beginning. So we’re both parents in COVID times. I know you have kids, and roughly the same age as mine. What have you learned as a parent about education during this crazy time that we’re all processing every day in seemingly new ways? But, what have you come away with yourself personally?

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: I mean, I’ve always known this at some level, but it’s become clear. Kids are so different, and what they need is so different. So my two kids, their personality, what they want from school, what they need from their teachers is really different. One is much more independent, can do his own thing. The other just thrives on relationship and somebody who’s going to be there to help him and teach him. I think I’ve watched. And again, kind of knew this, but it’s been happening in real time. What happens when they are driving things through their interests and their passions, I’ve learned that the difference between theory and practice is hard. So as a parent, I sometimes find it hard not to fall into the mindset that I think we all struggle with as parents. Which is, oh my God, are they missing out on important time or important content, or whatever? Even though I spend my life advocating for this other approach to education.

So, to your point, right, that change is hard. And change that looks different from what we know and what has felt, I don’t know, like the stable way to do things, is super hard. And I think I’ve also seen that my kids have a different perspective on the world and the future than I do. That I think maybe this is a function of getting older, Brian, I don’t know. But sometimes I feel more like my parents, right? Of like, oh my God, what’s the future going to hold? And, how do I make it certain? And they sit there and they’re like, it’s okay, we’ll figure this out. And their confidence that they can do that continues to feel like the most important thing that I can give to them.

Because if I thought my life has changed from the time I was young to the time I am now in my mid 40s, it’s going to look even more different from them. So, sorry, that was a bit muddled. But I think every family, anybody who’s listening to this and has a family, like man, we’ve all learned and grown and been pushed to our edges.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. I mean, a muddled answered on what have I learned as a parent is exactly right. Because it’s like, one day I think, all right I’ve got this figured out. Then the next day it’s like, what? And I think parents changing our own expectations is going to be a challenge. Community has a lot of impact on that too, I think. Maybe these kids have something on us that we don’t know. But you’re right, we’re trying to fit in the mold of what we understand should be the outcome, and that’s tough.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: And I guess another thing I would say though, is I think we all want our education system, whatever we imagine that to be, to be our partners in helping unfold that unique potential that is my individual child. Right? And I think there’s been a tendency to be like, okay school, you’re over there and I’m over here. And we have these tenuous links in the form of conferences or check-ins. And I think it’s going to be really interesting to think as a parent and a community member about what it means for me to build an education system inside of which education is my partner in helping my young person become who they want to be. And I think about that a lot, because I’ve missed that partner during the pandemic.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. It’s funny, as someone who’s been in the school choice world for a long, long, long time. I mean, one of the tenants of it is, hey, parents know best. Parents can help drive their kids’ education, and all that. And I always have believed that, but I’ve also wondered the limits of that for some parents, right? Not every parent is going to want to spend the time designing the curriculum for their kid. Some of them do. And so I think we’ve all learned a lot about it. To your point, how much we rely on that school as a partner. And how maybe this will at least wake us all up to the idea that we can be even stronger partners. And it’s not just, hey, put my kid on the bus at 7:30 and they come back at 3:30 and I assume everything went okay. And they got good grades, so that’s great. Now I don’t need to worry about it. Maybe now we’ll all be a little more in tune with what that looks like and what they’re actually achieving. But—

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah. And I think that’s super important to underscore, right? That hopefully as we move through these conversations, educators don’t feel attacked. This is not about individual people, right? Individual superintendents, individual principals, individual teachers. We are all doing the best we can inside of systems that are ossified and calcified and not conducive in their ways to flexing. And so I hope we can go into the conversations that we will go into with that mindset that it’s not about pointing fingers and trying to make other people the bad people. But rather, okay, so we’ve seen what doesn’t work for everyone, and how do we build something better?

Brian McGrath: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, one of the things I think I’ve taken from this too, and it’s an old friend of mine and the ed reform movement used to say to school choice crowds. “Look, most teachers, administrators, union members, whoever you don’t like in this, do not wake up every day saying, hey, how can we mess up families and kids today?” They’re not trying to do that. And they may be trapped in a bad system themselves and whatnot, or they may just have a different idea than you had for what is success. But I think that, especially during this time, your right, coming out of the other side of this we probably need to move the conversation to, all right, everybody tried their best. Or at least most people tried their best, let’s say. Because everybody’s… Most people are trying to make this work.

It worked for some people; it didn’t work for some people. Great, let’s move on and figure out what can work for the most people forward. And hopefully that changes the conversation, as you were describing earlier. What is learning? Where can we do it? How is it done? What do we credential? What do we regulate? Those things.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah.

Brian McGrath: I think that we retreat back to our old trench warfare, like a World War I. Lines across Europe where we’re all dug in and just waiting for the other side to make a mistake. Hopefully we’ll be able to come out a little bit out of this and say, well, that was rough. Let’s see what we can do to maybe meet each other in the middle on what the next phase of education looks like.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Yeah. I think it’s just made it more evident, right? I mean, you said something that I think is interesting. I think we had this illusion that education worked for more people than it actually worked for. And I think the pandemic has laid bare for more people in more ways the different ways in which education doesn’t work for lots and lots and lots of kids and families, as is currently. So it’s not that anything changed, it’s just that we saw it more clearly.

Brian McGrath: Right.

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Which is important.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Ulcca, thank you so much for spending a little time with us this morning. And you’ll have to come back and talk to us when your book comes out, because I’d love to hear about that. I’d love to read it. I’ll be the first one to buy a copy if you tell me when I can get it. And—

Ulcca Joshi Hansen: Oh, I will send you a copy. Brian, thank you. I appreciate that.

Brian McGrath: We’ve been joined by Ulcca Joshi Hansen today on EdChoice Chats. Please remember to sign up and subscribe for this podcast wherever you do that. And we’ll be with you next time. Thanks so much.