NCSL Podcasts

Education Report Is Call to Action | OAS Episode 180

Episode Summary

We sat down with three guests on this podcast to discuss a new education report, “The Time is Now.” The report, based on a two-year study as well as previous research, looks at what high-performing school systems in other countries do right and how to implement those approaches in this country. The first guest is Jason Dougal, president and chief operating officer of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). Dougal, who has extensive experience in leading systemic reform efforts, talks about the research and the conclusions. NCEE was a principal organizer of the study. Two legislators who were part of a bipartisan group of 20 legislators and legislative staff involved in the study also join the podcast: Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican from Montana, and Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, a. Democrat from Nevada.

Episode Notes


Episode Transcription

Ed:      Hello and welcome to “Our American States," a podcast from the National Conference of State Legislatures. This podcast is all about legislatures, the people in them, the policies, process, and politics that shape them. I’m your host, Ed Smith. 


LJ:       This study offered an opportunity for us following on the heels of the previous study group as to how we might best help education. Literally join the modern century.


Ed:      That was Representative Llew Jones, a Republican from Montana. He is one of my guests on the podcast today along with Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop, a Democrat from Nevada. We sat down to discuss a new education report, “The Time is Now,” a report based on a two-year study as well as previous research. It looks at what high-performing school systems in other countries do right and how to implement those approaches in this country.


            Both legislators were part of a bipartisan group of 20 legislators and legislative staff involved in the study.


            First up on this episode, though, is Jason Dougal, president and chief operating officer of the National Center on Education and the Economy or NCEE. Dougal, who has extensive experience in leading systemic reform efforts, talks about the research and the conclusions. NCEE was a principal organizer of the study. 


            Here is our discussion starting with Jason Dougal.


            Jason, thanks for coming on the podcast.


JD:      Thanks Ed. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. 


Ed:      So, before we get into “The Time is Now” report, I wonder if you could take a minute and just tell our listeners about your organization, the National Center on Education and the Economy.


JD:      Sure. NCEE has existed for almost 35 years now. And at its inception, it was really a research organization and think tank. But we really engage in a specific type of research which followed the tradition of industrial benchmarking the way companies benchmark each other and in a competitive way to improve themselves. And most of that is because we didn't believe that the traditional medical model to research was really as applicable in a social situation like schooling the way it is for a biological situation in the human body. That type of research, that approach to research changed everything for us. It led to a much deeper focus on comprehensive school design. On leadership development. On competency-based education. And at the same time within the organization, our thought leadership was really leading to us becoming a significant policy consultant to the federal government, to state governments. And most recently, we’ve merged those two parts of our organization so our support for practitioners with our support for policymakers all built on the same foundation of research. And right now, we are even starting to expand our strategy to include more of a focus on the power of youth in changing the future of education in the world. So, we are constantly evolving you know in response to the changing world around us.


Ed:      Why don’t we start out by having you explain the background of this report and the previous report that it builds on. What spurred the interest in this research?


JD:      I think the short answer is really a deeper appreciation for just how competitive the world’s economy and labor market had become. When you can feel it in every city, every town, every hamlet across this country that our lack of competitiveness and education is leading to spiraling inequality of income. The erosion of democracy a belief by many people that the system is rigged against them or certain groups. And really the tearing of the fabric of America. But when I talk to legislators, and I’m lucky enough to talk to legislators from all over the country including through NCSL, what I find is people who are really keenly interested in figuring out how to solve these what we call wicked problems becoming more economically competitive, how do we reverse the decade’s long slide in educational competitiveness and how do we restore people’s faith in American institutions and in America itself. So, that’s really what drove a real interest in the research that we’ve been doing for years.


Ed:      You have a presentation that I’ve reviewed that you and NCSL staff put together and a portion of that lays out the origins of our education system and why it is this no longer suited to our modern economy, as you were just saying. Can you walk us through that?


JD:      Sure. I’m going to do an abridged version you know given the time that we have. But I also want to mention that you know much of the credit for this thinking, this analysis, goes to Mark Tucker who is the founder of NCEE and Betsy Brown Rousey, who really honed a lot of this analysis over the last few decades. But really what we are talking about is that our current education system was in many ways perfectly built for the context in which it was created. The problem is it was created for a context at the turn of the century. From the 1800s till the 1900s where we were preparing, we were calling on this education system to prepare for burgeoning assembly line factory model with workers. We were assimilating hundreds of thousands of millions of immigrants mostly from Western Europe into this new American culture. We were looking to provide widespread basic literacy and numeracy to those folks who were going to work in that economy and those factories. And critical thinking and really elite skills were a very small percentage. We are talking about 10 or 20% of the student body, who were really those folks who the system was selecting to be the managers and the overseers of that economic system. 


            But even then, we were leveraging lessons from overseas. Again, mostly from Western Europe at the time. And I think before I spend too much time talking about the weaknesses of the current system, we should acknowledge just how strong that system performed for us. And for almost a century, the U.S. education system led the world in both attainment and quality. It drove the biggest economy in the history of the world to ever new heights. It fostered an explosion of the middle class with the backbone of a stable democracy, and it drove the production engine that helped win two world wars. It’s a system that had a lot of success right. So, you know we can’t sit here and say what a lousy design. But the world has changed quite a bit. And so, if you look at how we’ve performed let’s say in the last 50 years or so from the mid-1970’s until today what you would see on any measure and I’m going to use what most people refer to as the nation’s report card, NAEP scores have been flat in both English language and mathematics at 12th grade. We’ve seen some rises and falls when the test is administered in 4th and 8th grade, but if you just look at 12th grade over those decades what you see is a completely flatline of student performance. At the same time, what you would see is more than a doubling in spending per student on average and that’s an inflation adjusted dollar. So, you are seeing us spend a lot more money to get very similar results.


            At the same time as that is happening in education, I think it is really important to situate this in a larger context of what was happening in the economy here in the United States. And what you see is in the early 1970s there is an income distribution that was the tightest distribution in the industrialized world meaning the highest earners were not making that much more than the lowest earners when you look at percentiles you know 20th percentiles. But what you see now is actually just the opposite. What you see now is the largest disparity. The biggest inequity in income distribution in the industrialized world. How does that happen?  How does a period of 50 years in a country like the United States move from the most equitable distribution of income to the least equitable. And here is that story in a nutshell. As we emerged from the post World War II period and into the Cold War period, there was a tremendous reduction in the costs of communication and transportation. Not surprising. Right, we needed to communicate all across globe. We needed to move goods, services, people, ammunitions all over the globe. And so those costs came way down. But what that also did was it changed the way the labor market worked in the world.


            So, students in the United States were no longer just competitive with students down the street or maybe in the next state over. But now they were competitive with the world, right. And so, what we saw in the you know late 1970s and certainly in the 1980s was a tremendous amount of competition for what we will call low-skill work, right. We started to see you know manufacturing of small goods and toys happening overseas right. I can remember as a child seeing you know made in Taiwan or made in Vietnam or made in China on the bottom of your toys. But what’s happened is that’s given way in the 1990s and the 2000s to competition at higher levels of skills so it’s no longer just your basic manufacturing. I mean you are seeing competition in medicine, in engineering, in accounting and the like. And we have to introduce another 800-pound gorilla in the room and that’s technology, right. Technology has changed everything right. And so what we’ve seen is this great automation of any jobs that involve routine work and that’s not just low skilled work like Easy Pass, right, so it’s eliminated tollbooth operators. But you have TurboTax that’s eliminated accounting jobs. And you have LegalZoom eliminating lawyer positions right. So it's not that this is just a low-skill story. It’s a low-, medium-, and high-skilled story. And ultimately what that leads to is a vast extinction of any sort of low skill or routine work in high wage countries like the United States because those skills exist in lower wage countries or in machines that can do that work.


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Ed:      Let me ask you, given all the change you’ve just described, what has the U.S. done? How has it responded?


JD:      And I did say quite a mouthful didn’t I. And so it’s not like NCEE is the only organization that was aware of some of this going on right. And so I think we definitely tried our tried-and-true American solution which is let’s throw money at the problem. Hopefully a little bit more money will translate to very different results. And as I mentioned earlier, that’s led to more of a doubling in inflation adjusted dollars spending per pupil across the United States. A lot of that money and I’m not saying that we don’t need money. But what I am saying is that the way that money has been deployed has led directly to why we are not seeing the growth we’d hoped. A lot of that money went to lower class sizes either to specialty programs like special ed. Or to just lowering class size. And I’m just going to take a second to focus on this one for a moment because it’s so interesting. Lowering class size seems to make a lot of intuitive sense right. A teacher with a smaller group of students can give more individualized attention. And of course more individualized attention would lead to better outcomes in learning. But what you will actually see is in the highest performing jurisdictions around the world they don’t have small class sizes in general. They have much larger class sizes because they have a wholly different approach to teaching and learning than we do. They don’t imagine that teaching is about informing students of what they don’t know, but rather it is about facilitating a learning journey in which you wants lots of different answers to any question. Both right answers that come at the problem in different ways, different approaches, and more variety of wrong answers because it is through those answers that we can explore our thinking. So it’s a very different education philosophy that drives what appears to be a simple decision around class size. 


            But those aren’t the only things that we’ve tried. We’ve tried school competition. You know charters and vouchers. We’ve tried to put as much technology in the classroom as possible. We’ve tried with you know NCLB and we tried to drive test-based teacher accountability systems. And what each of these solutions bears in similarity is that none of them attempted to change the fundamentals of our system. Meaning none of them changed what it was like to prepare teachers. None of them changed what it was like to work in a school. It didn’t change the incentives that operate on teachers to improve their practice. It didn’t change the way we approached assessment or curriculum. And it didn’t change the incentives on students to do their best work. Because of all of those structures still in place, the different programs that we’ve tried over the last decades have fallen flat. It’s a systems problem.


Ed:      So you mentioned the smaller classroom as an example and the different approach that is taken in some other countries. So what have these other developed nations that have had more success than we’ve had, what are they doing? What else are they doing right? 


JD:      Yeah it’s really fascinating because I think these other countries and most of the high performers, their systems were defined much more recently than ours. And the advantage of that is they were designed in a context that is much more similar to the current context than ours were. I don’t believe that these countries were smarter or more thoughtful in their design. They just designed in a different context. And so rather than modeling their education system on a factory model, they modeled their education system on a professional working model in which teachers have a lot more time to collaborate to work to improve their practice – to work like professionals do right. It’s the way professionals work right now right here in the United States. If you walk into a law firm or a hospital, what you will see is professionals constantly preparing right. You don’t ask a lawyer to walk in and do a cross examination without prepping. Without doing you know mock trials internally and working with a whole group of lawyers to set up in sequence questioning. But you will see teachers have to walk in and deliver lesson after lesson after lesson with very minimal preparation and very little collaboration right. So it’s a very different design for the way in which teachers work and the way in which the school is designed. These are systems that grew up in a context in which low skill labor was not the wave of the future right like it was 120 years ago. And so the idea of equity isn’t a political question. It’s a question of economic survival right. It’s a question of can we get everybody in our society a well-paying job that would allow them to survive. And so that means every student needs critical thinking. Every student needs the fundamentals and the discipline right. Every student needs to be prepared to take those fundamentals and apply them to new and novel challenges. That really required a completely different model and when you think about the way in which teachers are prepared and the environment in which they work. A competency based education system rather than one based on seat time so it’s really, really different. 


            (TM):  16:38


Ed:      So you were just enumerating some of those areas where states might be able to respond. Do you see that happening around the country?Are we starting to see the green shoots kind of thing in different places?


JD:      Yeah, we absolutely are. And I’m going to describe the few states in brief that we are working with and another that we are not because we don’t have the exclusivity on great ideas. The flagship state for me is Maryland and they passed legislation referred to as the blueprint from Maryland’s future in which they are focusing on early childhood. Providing early childhood education for all students and especially making sure that it’s free or highly affordable for students who are socially economically disadvantaged. This funding model that goes with it is really skewed to address intergenerational poverty. Because without the funding necessary to level the playing field will continue to drive the inequities that are in the current system. It is focused on teacher pay. It’s focused on teacher preparation. Not just increasing pay but increasing the rigor of preparation and what’s asked of teachers in exchange for that increase in pay. It’s focused on rethinking assessment and thinking about more of a competency based system in which students progress based on what they know and can do as opposed to how much time they sat in a class. And it also includes a much more robust career in technical education instead pathways so that students are actually ready for the current economy. So that’s Maryland and that you know that would be the one I would encourage any of your listeners that if they want to focus on something comprehensible to do so. 


            But there are some really interesting things happening in both Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Pennsylvania passed legislation over the summer to put together a 2030 commission that’s going to look at economic and educational competitiveness of the commonwealth with an eye towards setting goals, bipartisan goals for education by 2030. Mississippi has a bill that just made it through committee and is being heard on the house floor called House Bill 823 which again is looking to empanel a commission on economic and education competitiveness focused on things like early childhood, competency based learning, professional work environments for teachers and career and technical education. Not surprising a lot of these same themes. Montana is doing something similar, but rather than a commission they actually have all of the what we call the constitutional authorities in the same room so you have both houses of the legislature, the governor’s office, the state board of education and higher education board as well as the association of the local district boards right. And so you have all of those people coming together looking again at those same areas at early education, career and technical education, competency based pathways and professional work environments for teachers because that’s really the kernel of a different system. And we are also working with Michigan on rethinking their career and technical educational system. But there is also a state that ah we are not working with at the state level, but is doing some really interesting things and that’s California. And they are putting a lot more money into developing the whole child and providing wraparound services so there’s a lot of wonderful things happening out there in the states for anyone who wants to investigate it. 


Ed:      Well that’s great. And also of course we would encourage our listeners to read the report. And I just wonder as we wrap up any closing thoughts for lawmakers, all of whom I know are concerned about education in their states.


JD:      Yeah they are. And that is definitely my experience as well. And I’m going to leave you with a couple of quotes and some thoughts. First is one from Deming that says “your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting.”  We have teacher shortages. We have declining student enrollment. We have cultural wars turning school board meetings into public melees and most importantly, we have large swaths of American students leaving our schools completely unprepared for the world they are entering. We are at a point I think where we could see a major inflection in public education. The very notion of public education I think is in question right now from all sides quite frankly. 


            But I’ll leave you with a bit of levity and a bit of hope. It was Winston Churchill who said “Americans always do the right thing after all other options have been exhausted.”  Right. And I think we are rapidly approaching that situation where it is time for us to do the right thing and reconceptualize our education system. And that’s to focus on the development of the whole child where we pay as much attention to critical thinking and social and emotional wellbeing as we do to their content knowledge and the disciplines. Where we create professional work environments for teachers so that they can collaborate and improve their practice just like lawyers and doctors and other high status professions do. And that they are prepared in that same rigor. And in which we welcome parents, grandparents, caregivers, families and the entire community to pardon in setting the goals for our education system and designing those learning experiences. That’s all very much possible and we see it happening right now. 


Ed:      Well Jason, thank you so much for walking us though this. This is a fascinating topic and I hope we can talk again one day and see where things are a few years from now. Take care.


JD:      I hope so too. Thanks.


Ed:      I’ll be right back with Senator Loop and Representative Jones.


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            Senator Loop. Representative Jones. Thanks for coming on the podcast. So we are here today to discuss this new report “The Time is Now.” And earlier on this podcast, I spoke with Jason Dougal from the National Center for Education and The Economy. He explained the background and research that’s the foundation for the report. For the two of you, this study was a significant commitment and I wonder if you can talk a little bit about why you thought this was a good investment of your time. Senator, why don’t you start.


ML:     Well for me, I was an educator in the classroom for 30 years and then worked in the education industry after that for about 10-15 years. So as an educator and now a legislator, it all allowed me an opportunity to really learn and see what the best of education in the world was. We were doing this during the pandemic actually and so for us, we knew right away that this was an opportunity for us to see the best and maybe reimagine what was happening in the United States. 


Ed:      And Representative Jones, why did you want to be part of this effort? 


LJ:       I’ve been actively engaged in education legislation in Montana for at least two decades. The basic thing that I have discovered there is that real change is very hard to achieve. There’s lots of silver bullets. There’s lots of attempts to have education improve and step up. There are just numerous forces that tend to resist leaving these traditions behind. I’m fond of using Sears as an analogy. Sears was one of the great retailers in the United States and didn’t evolve. It fond a way to be so sticky that it’s gone. It lost out to the Wal-Marts and the Amazons. We were beginning to see education in a similar light. A great tradition. Great past history. Very difficult to change and this study offered an opportunity for us following on the heels of the previous study group as to how we might best help education literally join the modern century. 


Ed:      So Representative Jones, let me stick with you for a minute. Over the last couple of years as you’ve looked at these systems in Singapore and Estonia and Finland, British Columbia, what jumped out at you as different and maybe better or an improvement on the system that we have here in the U.S. and in your state?


LJ:       Well the truth is these systems are just newer right. And so they have a depth adopted many of the newer practices. And so the systems there are better aligned and designed from top to bottom for this modern era. And this era where there’s robots and automation that has replaced much of the need for what was our traditional workforces that we were producing. Where globalization and telecommuting allow workers from all over the world to compete for the job and for U.S. employment. Their systems just did a better job of preparing their teachers to meet the individual student needs, to meet the students where they are. Their systems were better at individualizing the education experience, recognizing that kids really aren’t all the same and we need to meet them where they are. Their systems were proficiency based. And by that, I mean our systems tend to be timed based. You sit in a seat for so many minutes each day and then if you get a D minus or above in that seat after so many minutes, you move forward. Their systems tend to free up the time. If it takes longer, so be it. If it takes shorter, so be it. But when you are proficient at an 80% or somewhat higher level, you get to move forward. And so their systems fully integrated career tech education. Not as an afterthought, but as a fully integrated advanced option. And again their systems seem to put it together at a more modern era to produce student outcomes that were aligned today.


            And again, I need to be fair to say their systems were simply designed later which has given them the advantage of adopting some more of the research and new technology of the time. But be that as it may, these systems in these other industrial nations were simply outperforming us in almost all areas. 


Ed:      Senator how about for you? What stood out for you in this course of this study?


ML:     Well one of the things that stood out for me because I am in Clark County, Nevada ,which is a very, very large system is that of course they were smaller systems. They didn’t have as many students or schools that they were dealing with. Also the teacher involvement was at a different level. Here we tend to have teachers trained and then teachers have professional development. But the teachers are not always actively involved in what they are doing with other teachers. And in other systems, teachers are mentoring other teachers at a different level. That stood out to me as an educator myself. I agree with Representative Jones about we just haven’t evolved. Teaching and sitting in a classroom are very, very much as it was when I was a child. And so some of these other systems are allowing students to be more flexible. And I think that we’ve lost sight of the trade industries in some ways. We have many students who would love to be for example I don’t know an air conditioner man or an electrician. And maybe they don’t need some of the things that we demand in a school for them to be proficient in that particular job. 


            It was just an interesting piece to watch these particular systems produce very effective students into the workforce and we seem to struggle with that. So I’d like to see us move forward with that in a more progressive way.


Ed:      Senator Loop let me stick with you for just a minute. While these are international examples, another report also looked at Maryland to gauge the effectiveness of reforms introduced in that state a way to see how things work closer to home. Can you talk about what you took away from the experience you had there in Maryland? 


ML:     So one of the things they have there is they have reconfigured how they are putting students through and I think that that was important. Also once again and it’s not lost on me that they have some smaller systems. There has been a big discussion here in Las Vegas, Clark County, to break up this school district. And I’m not sure that that is the answer because I think we need to look at some of these very effective models before we do that and then decide how to move forward. I don’t just think breaking up the school district and doing the same thing is the answer.


Ed:      How about you Representative Jones. What did you take from that Maryland experience where they are so far?


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LJ:       I found Maryland a fascinating experience, but first I’m going to step back a bit. I would want to say that across the world I think teachers work very, very hard. And I believe U.S. teachers do as well. Sometime this is the this discussion gets turned upon teachers and that’s inappropriate. I believe U.S. teachers work very hard. They are just often trapped in working in an antiquated model and they have not been provided the opportunity to work in a much more modern model or the training, the mentorship. Everything the senator spoke to. We are disserving our teachers in our current model and not providing them the opportunity to excel at their art. Maryland brought all the players together right. They started trying to make some systemic change instead of the silver bullets let’s just require a certain class. Let’s just race to the top load student up again. They tried to get all the stakeholders all aligned pulling in the same direction. And I think they are beginning to have success because of that. 


            And we have other U.S. examples. Massachusetts has been a world leader. It scores high on all of these scales as a state. When it tests as a state and it’s a big state with a big population, it does well. We can do these things if we can find a way to sustain some of this systemic change. Not just a silver bullet, but an overall view of how we evolve our system towards this more modern area. 


Ed:      Representative Jones let me stay with you for a minute. I know the changes to the state education system are going to look different in every state because every state takes its own approach. And I know you’ve had a number of hearings in Montana to talk about this and I wonder what you think Montana would take from this report and how that might apply to the state’s education system.


LJ:       Obviously this report added onto the report “No Time to Lose” and so we had already began applying the lessons right. We had in Montana, we have already very much freed up through local control. Our local schools are able to release time. They are able to do all of these best of practices. They are not forbidden from doing so by some rule or law. And we’ve began to pass legislation that’s evolving at the university level. Our teacher prep to be more aligned with proficiency base. But that’s all process. We are still trapped in a vision of the past and so what we took from this study what we brought home was more of the fact that we have to help the vision evolve because being able to do something doesn’t mean you will do it. So we gathered historic actually our constitution refers to the constitutional players at education, which includes the legislature. It includes the board of public ed. It includes the board of education of which the governor chairs. Includes the superintendent of public instruction. Includes the school boards. It includes all of the board of regents for the college level. And we started doing we brought in help from NCSL, NCEE or Jason Dougal, who you mentioned in the leadup. Aim has come to the state a number of times. Michelle Exstrom and we’ve both personally and telecommuting and we’ve began to bring these constitutional players together and talk about what each player can do in their lane right. And the legislature has numerous teachers in it. Numerous administrators. And we’ve got some general alignment beginning to happen. Everybody is beginning to accept there is a vision. First that there is a case for change. Then there is a vision of what positive change might indeed look like. And so at least this session so far, we have numerous pieces of legislation moving on forward in the legislative side to help with the change. We have general agreement from the constitutionals. This is a direction they want to go. They are speaking of this change and so hopefully we can begin a more systemic approach rather than that quick silver bullet if you had just test more everything would be fine. If you just put a civics book in the classroom, everything will be fine. And so we’re trying to take the more systemic approach and this the time is now really matters to that.


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Ed:      Senator how about for Nevada?  What are you thinking of practically in terms of legislation. Where are you in Nevada?


ML:     Well I think the important piece of alignment to me is the name of the actual project “The Time is Now.” I don’t think we can wait any longer and with the pandemic we know that students are behind. And so we have to escalate this. Going back to what Representative Jones was talking about with teachers, I would tell you that one of the things that I think is so difficult is teacher pay. While we are short on teachers, I think that that’s a direct link. In these other countries these teachers are not struggling to live on a paycheck. Also their expertise and the respect of the teacher are different. And so some of those things create shortages of teachers, which means we have shortages in classrooms of professionals. One of the things we are working on here in Nevada is we are also working on bringing paraprofessionals back in as teachers. Those people that want to go to work as a teacher, but cannot take the time off to go to school. So we are developing programs where they can work, continue with their paycheck and then go to school in the evenings and get some compensation and create get their teaching license so that we can transition them into the classroom. So that’s the other thing that is happening here in Nevada. I think that some of the changes that we are going to have to do is we have a very low pay per pupil rate and so we are working on that. Our alignment is not as clean as Montana’s apparently. And we have a board our state board is led by elected and appointed officials. Our school boards are all elected. And our superintendents in each school district are hired not elected or appointed. So with that being said, we have some things that we need learn, but we also have some things that we need to clean up.


            There is going to be some legislation around that. I’m sure that there will be some discussion on raising the per pupil expenditure and also on how we can align our curriculum. Our state superintendent has done a really good job in the last four years and so we look forward to working with her on that. 


Ed:      Senator let me stay with you for just a minute. You mentioned the time here and the urgency of these kinds of changes. This report sketches out a framework for best practices that involve learning systems, equity, governments. These are significant and complicated things and given the urgency, what timeline is realistic for people to begin to see changes in the state system?


ML:     Well in my case in Nevada, if it has to be legislation, we only meet every other year so we are one of the four states that has that biennial process so right now we have got to put some things in place in ’23 or we will have to wait until ’25. I’m looking forward to escalating that piece. I think that the timeline is shorter than we’ve ever had. In the past, it’s been well we will work on this and we will just get this done. We will just get this done. I don’t think we can any longer say that and I also don’t think that we have to stick to this school year piece. We have a very you know rigid 180 days and we always think we start school and we stop school. I think we need to continue to work all year round to get this buttoned up and get it done for our students because while it sounds trite sometimes to say this is our future. And I have five grandkids who are in school currently at all different grade levels. I have elementary. Middle school and high school. And I’m watching them try to pick up the pieces right now for being out of school. 


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Ed:      That’s an excellent point. We’ve seen a lot of empirical evidence now about the kind of damage that the pandemic did to kids, that’s for sure. Representative Jones, it sounds like Montana has moved pretty urgently. What do you see as the timeline?  What’s the realistic for seeing significant changes in your state?


LJ:       Well again the title of the report is very apt, “The Time is Now” and change just has to begin right. now  And even the longest journey begins with a step and so we began working on taking the steps. But again the political process is that that is messy right. Traditions are you have another saying and I would like to say with years of years of traditions uninhibited by progress we certainly have areas that never want to change anything. In truth it is easier to change the process and make it possible to do our stuff than it is to ah evolve the vision that the change is necessary that there is truly a case for change. Timewise yeah we are leaning into it and I am this report has made me very, very hopeful, but education is sticky. It’s very traditional. It’s this change while we need to begin it and we need to begin to have examples. It will take some time. It’s likely we too are a biennial session. We have a number of good folks working on it. But this is the work of at least a decade to slowly evolve and bring folks into a vision that it is okay to have a modern education system that doesn’t have little rows of desks all perfectly lined up with kids sitting there facing forward. But that’s how I went to school and that’s how we envision school and it’s difficult to evolve this thought process. Change will take time. I am hopeful that the next decade will see an evolution to a more modern system.


Ed:      Well I guess the old expression the best time to start was 10 years ago and the second best time is today so it sounds like you are on that. So, representative, as we get ready to wrap up, I wonder if there is any other insight you would like to share with colleagues around the country who might be looking at just this issue and maybe they haven’t read the report yet, but I hope after they listen to this they will. And what would you want them to take away from it?


LJ:       You know the time is now. If you read the lead into The Report, the time truly is now. Change almost always requires a catalyst and Covid was a disruptor. It has everyone looking at education. From the teachers to the school boards to the parents. We all turned and looked at education and that’s not an item that can unusually vent. This is a time that we need to re-examine education because we have people that are currently more heavily engaged in every pore every before. The time is now to set these expectations. The time is now to re-examine the systems. And more than that, the time is now to master the courage to speak up and say hey we are not content with mediocrity. We led the world for a century and with some work we will lead the world for the next century. But the time is now where we can’t continue to pretend there is not issues here. We must do this now. 


Ed:      Well Senator you are going to get the last word here. What would you leave your colleagues around the country with? 


ML:     The investment. The investment that we need to make because the investment will equal the return. I think that we have to make that investment now. I think that we need to move forward to make it better. I don’t think we can wait. As the Representative said, the teachers are working hard. Students are working hard. So as a society as legislators as groups that study this type of subject, we need to make the investment as well. We all need to come together to make this better for our kids. I think it can be done. It’s going to take some work and it will take a little bit of time. But we can turn this around by making an investment that equals the return. 


Ed:      Well what a great conversation. This has just been very, very interesting for me and I truly appreciate both of you making the time during what I know is an extraordinary busy time of year for both of you. So take care and thank you again.


ML:     Thank you.


LJ:       Thank you sir for hosting this.


Ed:      I’ve been talking with Jason Dougal from the National Center on Education and the Economy and Montana Representative Lou Jones and Nevada Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop about the new education study The Time is Now. Thanks for listening. 


            You can check out all the podcasts from the National Conference of State Legislatures by searching for NCSL podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. Tim Storey, NCSL CEO, hosts Legislatures:The Inside Storey where he focuses on leadership and legislatures. The Our American States podcast dives into some of the most challenging public policy issues facing legislators. And Across the Aisle host Kelly Griffin tells stories of bipartisanship. Also check our special series Building Democracy on the history of legislatures.


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