Why do you work on education issues?

“Learning has been one of the most significant things in my life. It began with my mother—an educator—who was adamant about academic excellence. She taught me that learning is an ongoing process and forever evolving. For me, it’s been so empowering and has given me so much value.”

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Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening – taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them – and making decisions from there.”

The impact of COVID-19 and the racial justice awakening after the murder of George Floyd forever changed our world. How do schools need to adapt to this new reality?

“Mental health support for our kids is essential. This starts by listening— taking in what they’ve experienced and what’s challenged them—and making decisions from there. We want our kids to not only be great in academics, but they also have to be emotionally healthy.”

What gives you hope for the future?

“I’m very hopeful because this generation of children is brilliant and has lots to say. I come across young people with such capacity and ability to think outside the box. Through our work, we are going to feed and water those seeds and allow young people to have the best opportunities. That gives me a lot of hope.”

Tim Shriver


WE BUILT SCHOOLS with an institutional structure that’s supposed to help children grow and develop, but that almost never uses the word love. It almost never has dedicated attention to the practice of compassion. It almost never speaks the language of healing, of teaching meaning, of removing the blinders of bias.

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Kids show up with these big eyes saying, does anyone see me? Do I matter? What’s my part? How do I make a difference? That’s in the eyes of a seven-year-old, a nine-year-old and, I dare say, a 17-year-old, too. They’re all showing up every day. And when those eyes never meet a relationship infused with love, never feel trust, never find their purpose, they start to fall. And before you know it, half of our kids in high school have their heads on their desks. It’s a reaction to a world in which they don’t see themselves and aren’t learning what matters most.

Social emotional learning is, if I can put it simply, to balance the teaching of head with the teaching of heart.”

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani

WHEN COVID-19 HAPPENED, all of our programs were shut down. We looked at our community and our students and said, “what are we going to do?” We developed our first virtual summer program. We designed it for a girl who might be getting Wi-Fi in a Burger King parking lot, or has one device that she’s sharing between her three siblings, or maybe she’s an essential worker or her mom’s an essential worker. We needed to design a program that met her needs—where she could have an asynchronous and synchronous program, where she could go on and offline if she needed to. But still, at the end of the program, feel like: I learned how to code. I built something. I’ve upskilled myself.

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It is possible to teach a girl who lives in a homeless shelter how to code. I’ve seen them go work at Facebook, Google, Microsoft. We can do this, and we can do it one student at a time.”

That was very critical to us, designing for her. And by doing so, we were able to open our program up to so many other young women who were in that situation, who didn’t have to choose between their education and their family. That was really powerful. We ended up teaching thousands more girls to code–thousands more girls under the poverty line, thousands more Black and Latino girls than we had before.

We had a lot of young women who were succumbing to the two-generational cycle of poverty. We had a student who helped her mom stay in the workforce by dropping out of her own schooling to take care of her siblings. So many young people and their mothers are seeing their hopes and ambitions and dreams just die on the vine.

Everyone’s talking about, “We don’t have enough talent. We need to hire people. Innovation, automation, everything’s happening so quickly.” But I see really hungry kids who want a shot at that American dream. So, let’s give it to them. Let’s build curricula. Let’s build micro-credentials. Let’s build programs and tools where they can actually learn the skill sets of today and tomorrow.

Kaya Henderson


WHEN I STARTED Reconstruction, I set out to create a space for African American young people to learn their own history, their own culture. I was concerned that schools were teaching inaccurate versions of African American history or of American history and African Americans’ place in that history. I drew from great examples like Hebrew school or Chinese school to create a place where, as African Americans, we teach our young people our own history and culture, where we are responsible and intentional about the development of their identity. What I fundamentally believe is if we can do that for African American kids, we build kids who see themselves differently in school and in life.

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We talk about high expectations for kids all the time, and we talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. Ultimately, all that boils down to is, do you love kids? Think about how you deal with your own children. You’ve got incredibly high expectations for them. It doesn’t matter if they struggle. Then you get them the supports. But you never say, ‘You can’t do it,’ to your own kids. I feel like the American education system has said to Black kids, ‘You can’t do it. You’re lazy.’

We talk about students being the leaders of tomorrow. These young people are ready to lead today.”

We wanted Reconstruction to be a place that was affirming, that was motivational, that was ‘yes, you can’ in an Obama-esque kind of way, because all of the research shows that when you encourage young people, when you make them believe in themselves, when they have a sense of possibility, they can climb the highest mountains.


What makes you excited to go back to school?

“Elmo is so excited to be going back to school! Elmo had fun learning with his friends and teachers on video, but Elmo really really can’t wait to see them at school again! Elmo misses them so much… We’ll make art and build with blocks and we’ll have story time together!”

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Elmo had fun learning with his friends and teachers on video, but Elmo really really can’t wait to see them at school again!

Are you worried about going back to school?

“Elmo feels a little nervous to go back because some days are going to be different. But it’s okay because Elmo’s teachers will help Elmo and his friends learn and play together again!”

Emily Oster

What are your hopes as we head into recovery?

“I hope for resilience, and I think that there will be resilience. I hope that we can try to use this to make things better. There were a lot of issues with the educational system, which were surfaced by the pandemic, but were there before. There were a lot of things, even physical infrastructure things, but also things about how we’re doing teaching, and things about the inequality in learning. I am hoping that those lessons will not be lost–that we will use this to be better, rather than worse.

And I really hope we as adults can push past the fear that has pervaded this year to say, ‘It’s okay to have the kids in school.’ That we will not let our own anxiety affect our children’s ability to go back to having their regular lives.”

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There were a lot of issues with the educational system, which were surfaced by the pandemic, but were there before. I am hoping that those lessons will not be lost–that we will use this to be better, rather than worse.”

There has been a lot of disparate data collection around COVID and schools. What role does data play in our recovery?

“It would be good for school districts to have centralized information. I think it’s important to start tracking what we are going to be doing to ameliorate learning losses, to encourage the recovery of schools and of learning over the next year. And I think that, no matter how you feel about the particular mitigation stuff around COVID, that’s something I think we can all agree on. If we have that information, we can then start looking back and saying, ‘Okay. Here’s the first round of testing for this year. We’re seeing, hey, one-on-one tutoring is working really well. This other thing is not working so well.’ That’s something we can learn across school districts. We’re not going to be able to do that kind of learning if we don’t have a systemized way to have some information about what districts are doing.”

What are some of your biggest takeaways from the pandemic about schools and schooling?

“I realized when I had my kids home last spring, that some aspects of what the school was delivering was no problem for me to deliver, like learning to read. Some of those learning pieces, particularly for the younger kids I had, I did not have a problem scaffolding. But they were really unhappy with not being around other people. I think a lot of what schools are delivering for everybody is this kind of socio-emotional learning piece of what our kids need, and that has changed some of how I think about what we’re getting out of school, and what they’re getting out of school.”

Tom Frieden


THE COVID-19 VACCINES are remarkably safe and effective against the virus. They’re crushing the curve of the virus and are changing the face of the pandemic in the United States. By the fall, we’re going to be at the new normal. The global pandemic is far from over, but the worst is behind us in the United States.

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I encourage people to get their kids vaccinated. Although COVID-19 usually doesn’t cause severe illness in kids, it can, and that illness can be life-threatening. It can also result in long-term consequences and kids can spread disease to others, who can become severely ill or die from the infection. All of us are better protected, the more of us are vaccinated.

This is our once in a lifetime opportunity to make the world a safer, more secure place.”

I’m hopeful the world will recognize that we have to work together to fight infectious diseases. We will all be safer if we partner with countries around the world to strengthen systems for finding, stopping, and preventing health threats. We must strengthen our public health institutions, not just the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but state and local health departments across the United States, global health agencies, and public health programs in countries around the world, particularly in lower-income areas. We’re at risk of being blindsided by the next pandemic, but I think the will to make progress so that doesn’t happen again is stronger than ever. This is our once-in-a lifetime opportunity to make the world a safer, more secure place.

Shalinee Sharma

Zearn is an online math platform that’s widely used in schools. You must have had a unique line of sight into how the pandemic affected students!

“We serve one in four elementary school students in the country. Big picture, the data shows in real time: What is the effect of the pandemic? Who’s learning? There was one simple finding: low-income students were disproportionately hit by the pandemic. A month after school closures, participation actually increased among students from higher-income families, but was still down for lower income and middle income families 52% and 30% respectively. Their schools were less likely to be in person, and then it all came down to device access. Low-income students couldn’t get devices, so the shock hit them harder when schools closed, and they never recovered.”

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Lost learning implies that it can’t be recovered. But we can recover it and move forward.”

Educators will likely face significant learning losses when students return to school in the fall. How do we get kids back on track?

“I prefer the term ‘missed learning.’ Lost learning implies that it can’t be recovered. But we can recover it and move forward. As for how we do that, we recently published a report with The New Teacher Project with some groundbreaking findings. We looked at 2 million students across a hundred thousand classrooms and observed two different approaches for catching kids up. One group was teachers who chose remediation, ensuring students had mastered the basics before teaching grade-level content. So, for example, with students who had missed the back half of third grade, teachers went back and taught a lot of concepts from third grade before starting them on fourth grade content. The second group was teachers who chose “acceleration,” moving forward with grade-level content and just filling in knowledge gaps as needed along the way. There were two key findings. The first is that acceleration works better for students. They learn more content. And the second is that acceleration is less confusing for students. They struggle less. In fact, students who received “accelerated” instruction completed 27% more grade-level lessons than students who received remediation–and it was particularly effective for students of color and those from low-income families. So, how do you set up kids to feel hopeful this fall? You start them on grade-level and use these acceleration strategies.”

Maria Hinojosa


THIS NOTION OF how we use this moment to transform education is something I’ve been thinking about for over a year. In the middle of teaching at Barnard College, my alma mater, not only did I get sick with COVID-19, but I had to adjust to teaching my students on a computer when my teaching is about creating a safe space in the physical classroom.

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This is a difficult thing to achieve in the United States when there is so much division fomented on racial hate. One of the things this country has yet to do in its teaching is to acknowledge our complicated history.

Students have experienced trauma, separation, fear, and hunger as a result of this pandemic. I had students in an Ivy League setting whose families were hungry. These are first generation Mexican undocumented students or children of undocumented food workers from the Bronx and Queens who lost their jobs and suddenly there was no food in the home.

Our children are looking to us, and we need to show them that we are survivors, and we are vulnerable too.”