Rachel Janfaza


CURIOUS ABOUT YOUNG AMERICANS and their politics, I’ve traveled to nearly a dozen states and spoken with hundreds of potential young voters this year.

More Voices

For years, Gen Z has been at the forefront of social and political movements.”

From a Costco parking lot outside Cincinnati to a shopping center in Omaha to the campus of Georgia State University in Atlanta, it’s become abundantly clear that while young people care deeply about the issues most impacting their lives, they don’t always view electoral politics as the answer, and they rarely see themselves reflected in political news.

Political strategists, cable pundits, and even some savvy pollsters have spent years lamenting over dismal youth voter turnout, but it’s no wonder young people are skeptical of our current political ecosystem when they’re unrepresented.

John Della Volpe


THERE ARE LOTS of people talking about Gen Z, but far fewer people actually talking to young people. This has to change. This 70 million strong generation is the most diverse and most educated in our history. It’s also a generation that has come of age at a time of tremendous chaos and trauma. Most young people were born on either side of 9/11 and are becoming adults while experiencing the Great Recession, gun violence, shooter drills, contentious elections, political insurrection, the rise of white nationalism, opioid abuse, and rising rates of suicide.

More Voices

We need to transform the way in which we listen to younger folks around government and politics to incorporate them into campaigns and create opportunities to vote.”

So, from the very beginning, Zoomers lacked the sense of security that older generations often took for granted. Because of all this, Zoomers are taking any means necessary to make the community and country better. Not only volunteerism, but also participating in politics in record numbers—far higher than millennials or Gen X-ers or anybody else before them—essentially doubling the rate of participation in the last midterm election. And they bring with them a progressive, solutions-based mindset.

Zoomers don’t believe that critical institutions—whether it’s the judiciary, legislative branch, education—are listening. Less than 40 percent say their education experience prepared them to be active and engaged citizens. Despite that, they’re still voting in record numbers. So, what does it all mean? It means that we need to listen and collaborate with young people to transform the way in which our curricula and educational experiences are developed.

Emily Hanford

Emily H

I’VE BEEN AN education reporter for a long time, and I’ve found there’s a pervasive set of beliefs about reading that aren’t true that have taken hold in schools. Basically, that reading is something that kids just pick up—they don’t need a lot of instruction. That as long as you read a lot to kids, they’ll be okay, it’ll come in time. For some kids, it seems like that’s the way it works. But the truth is when you get under the hood, that’s not really the way it works. And it isn’t working for a whole lot of kids.

More Voices

Parents are quite a powerful force in education. And when a lot of parents find a common story, that does lead to change.”

In schools all over this country, kids are not being taught how to read. Some kids don’t need a lot of instruction, but there’s a whole segment of kids who need a lot more instruction than they’re getting. And it’s having a huge impact on kids, families, teachers, and schools.

I think we’ve been too quick to blame all these other reasons for why kids aren’t reading. It does correlate with things like poverty and circumstances in kids’ homes, but for some reason we haven’t looked at instruction.

Hosea Born

MANY PEOPLE DON’T realize that internet access is a problem, but the digital divide is very real in poor, rural areas. Over 75 percent of my students live below the poverty line. Last year, we had a limited number of hotspots, and we were able to connect some of the students who couldn’t get online. Efforts were made to expand our Wi-Fi to school parking lots or to get local businesses to open up their Wi-Fi access. But this year we have one family where the hotspot doesn’t even work where they live. They’re completely off the grid as far as internet connection goes.

More Voices

We need to recognize broadband as a public utility and necessity, not a fringe benefit. Rural America is an essential element of our nation, and it needs to be connected.”

Sometimes a grown-up has to take the student to a location with free Wi-Fi so they can get some work done online. But if no one in the household is home or can help with schoolwork during the day, there are absolutely no resources. Students who can hop on a Zoom call or email their teachers have immediate access to help, but those who aren’t connected have to rely on paper materials, so getting feedback is delayed. When these students have the option to attend school in-person, they choose to be in-person— even if there are health issues.

District hotspots prevent students who are already underserved living in rural Arkansas from falling further behind their peers across the nation. Having internet access, having the ability to connect, creates opportunities that every child should have.

Ronald Perkins

Ronald Perkins

I PREACH TO young folks, “If you could wake up every single day and love what you do—what would it be? That’s your passion.” You have to find out what you’re excited about, not what society is saying you should be.

More Voices

A lot of younger folks now have a stronger sense of what they want to do. Innovation and technology have opened the doors up for a lot of them at an earlier age. We need to have mechanisms in place to keep them interested. If we don’t hold their interest, something else will.”

Everybody’s journey to employment isn’t the same. We need to address that head on, and let young folks know that it’s not just about saying, “I want to do something.” It’s having the right opportunity to take advantage of your skill set, and knowing what needs to be in place to connect you.

We’re engraved with college, college, college. Our parents said, “You don’t want to do the grunt work. Why would you want to hurt yourself or break your back going into a trade?”

But a lot of folks are afraid of post-secondary education, and that’s a conversation we don’t have. College is a big thing, especially if no one in your family has gone, and no one is pushing it. Instead, they’re saying, “Go get a job. When you gonna get bills?” Man, the professors and the scenery—that’s scary to someone who has never been exposed to college life. Even being away from home and going across town can be a challenge. Our institutions don’t get that.

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.

More Voices

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.

More Voices

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.

More Voices

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.

Ze Min Xiao

Ze Min Xiao

HOW DO WE make sure that families have a seat at the table, and that their participation is not just a one-time thing? We call them ‘participatory architects.’ If we are building a house, we want to make sure that the people who live in the house have a say in how the house is designed.

More Voices

A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.”

Why don’t families participate in PTAs? Why are they not involved? A lot of it is fear. The fear of not being able to speak the language. The fear of being undocumented. Schools are the first trusted space of immigrant families. They’re a starting point to build relationships with others in the community and a space where individuals can be seen. Our education structure needs to find ways to serve the entire family, not just the students. First and foremost, schools need to make sure they build relationships with parents and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.

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.”

More Voices

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.”

Viridiana Carrizales


PRIOR TO THE pandemic, decades of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have led to immigrant families not seeing schools as places they can trust. Any space they could create between the schools and themselves was a way of keeping their families safe.

More Voices

COVID-19 hit our families, many of whom identify as Latinx, extremely hard. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing challenges experienced by immigrant students and families—access to health care, mental health resources, food, rental assistance, and so many other basic necessities that were intensified as a result of job losses. We see this firsthand at ImmSchools. When you add immigration status, many of our families avoided going to the doctor, even if they had COVID-19 symptoms, because they were afraid of being deported.

I envision a place where our students are coming in, knowing they can thrive and that they can do anything they dream of without having to think about their immigration status.”

I was formerly an undocumented student myself. I understand what it feels like when you go somewhere and they ask you for documentation that you don’t have. I know how it feels when you go home as a kid and you’re afraid that you might not find your parents there.

What I have learned working with K-12 schools is that the voices of our immigrant students and families have been systematically erased and silenced. But our immigrant families are not silent. They have a voice. We don’t have to guess or assume what they need. We can ask them. Right now, there are no opportunities for families to engage with the school district in a language they speak. Teachers are depending on Google Translate or asking one of their third graders to translate—that’s not the responsibility of our students. It is the responsibility of the school system to find professional translators, so that families know what’s happening and have the opportunity to help schools craft a path forward.

Eddie Koen


THERE ARE NO silver bullets in education. You’ve got to get the hammer on a lot of things at one time to really see long-term, transformational change.

More Voices

There’s an interesting political will now that did not exist three or four years ago. We have a real opportunity to integrate mental health and wraparound social services in schools, really integrating curriculum and student time with social services and parents. We just can’t ignore that anymore. It’s impossible to expect students to perform when lights are cut out at home, or violence is happening. Really, it’s like we need a new idea: What are the social determinants of education? And how do we radically integrate them?

I think we should re-imagine education by asking how and who should educate us. It’s not so much about what we teach—it’s every mechanism and who is getting to educate our students that we should rethink.”

Within those programs and initiatives, there’s incredible power. I’ve learned this in my own life. It’s the personal touch. You never know when the opportunity for transformation can open up with a student or a teacher. The more you have that continuous, intrusive contact, it can happen. I’m optimistic that it will happen if we’re really intentional about building relationships.

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.

More Voices

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.”

More Voices

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.”