This week Andy is talking while Jed is walking…hiking the Camino Trail with his wife, Amy. Andy is talking with Morgan Polikoff, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southern California(USC)’s Rossier School of Education.
Their conversation focuses on public opinion on education, particularly parent opinion, and the similarities and differences of post-pandemic K-12 experiences for students, parents, and families. A theme running through the discussion is how to build and use an accurate data model to overcome the overt political efforts to drive a wedge between parents and the public education system, shed light on the issues, and to create a healthy culture of free expression to work through complicated issues (e.g., transgender, sports, gay rights, and controversial topics and diversity in the curriculum).
For those of you who would prefer a video recording, we provide a link to YouTube as well.
References & Notes:
• The UAS Education Project data, documentation, and publications focused on “Understanding Coronavirus in America” by USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research (CSER)’s Center for Applied Research in Education (CARE)’s Understanding America Study (UAS) Education Project: https://uasdata.usc.edu/index.php
• Morgan Polikoff’s book, Beyond Standards: The Fragmentation of Governance and the Promise of Curriculum Reform: https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Standards-Fragmentation-Governance-Curriculum/dp/1682536114/ref=sr_1_1?crid=TWUZ7FDJ0BKS&keywords=beyond+standards&qid=1697491913&sprefix=beyond+standards%2Caps%2C124&sr=8-1
• A Controversial Topics Report from USC Dornsife CSER and USC Rossier School of Education: https://www.ednc.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/House_Divided.pdf
• Bellwether’s Common Ground: How Public K-12 Schools Are Navigating Pandemic Disruptions and Political Trends: https://bellwether.org/publications/common-ground/
• Politico’s “Virginia Went to War Over History. And Students Actually Came Out on Top.”: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/09/09/glenn-youngkin-history-wars-virginia-00113958
Morgan Polikoff: Thank you.
Pleasure to be here.
Andy Rotherham: It's
really great to see you.
Thanks for doing this.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, my pleasure.
Andy Rotherham: So those of you
who are regular, uh, listeners or
viewers will notice something's
a little different here.
Um, we've got Morgan Polikoff from USC.
I'm going to introduce him in a sec.
Jed is overseas, uh, on a
fantastic, uh, family trip.
And so Morgan, you know, we, we can't
do the show without a Californian.
So Morgan, uh, gratefully agreed
to, uh, step in and, and pinch it.
So before we get into it though, Morgan,
I was hoping, um, you know, for, for
the wonky folk, uh, crowd, talk a little
bit about, uh, what you do now and a
little bit your background in education.
Morgan Polikoff: Sure, yeah.
So I'm a professor at USC in
the Rossier School of Education.
I study, uh, for a long
time I've studied standards.
based reform policies.
So, um, you know, going back
to the No Child Left Behind
era and then Common Core.
I wrote a book on that topic in:
And, uh, then another thing that I
do is I'm kind of like a, you know,
quote unquote, public intellectual.
And so over time, that's
evolved in various ways.
But one thing that I do a lot
of these days is I look at
public opinion on education.
So I've I've directed some state and
nationally representative surveys focused
on education policy and, and since
COVID as well, I've co directed the
education portion of something called
the Understanding America Study, and
we've really tracked American families
educational experiences since COVID.
So, um, so yeah, I pay a lot of attention
to public opinion and, and public,
uh, uh, you know, what's going on in
education policy around the country.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, and I should add
Morgan's a fantastic Twitter follow.
So if you want to, uh, um, or
I guess, what do we say now?
Morgan Polikoff: I mean,
it's down the tube.
There's nothing left
there anyway, but sure.
Andy Rotherham: Um, yeah, but you're
still, I mean, Morgan, if you want to
follow this work and we're going to
get in some of the public opinion stuff
today and Morgan's going, I don't know.
Are you on any of the other,
like, there's all the other,
Morgan Polikoff: yeah, I have any
questions I made an account on blue sky.
The problem with blue sky is it's all
academics, which is, um, a little bit
boring because academics are boring.
So the spice of, you know,
the spice of Twitter, right?
The journalists and the
policy wonks and the D.
people, and then the random loons,
you know, you just don't get
that when it's all professors.
Andy Rotherham: I think it's a little bit.
I've been thinking about it.
It's like, you know, like the problem
in the Republican primary is like,
there's too many alternatives.
And so they can't like unite
around an alternative to Trump.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah...
Andy Rotherham: it's the exact
same problem in social media.
Now there's just like all these
other platforms, but none of them
have achieved critical mass yet.
And so like Twitter X, you know, sort
of just limps along because it's,
it's, it's, it's the only one that
still has like any kind of a critical
Morgan Polikoff: And I think the reality
is that there's never going to be a
perfect replacement for it, and we all
just have to get used to that, and so,
you know, those of us who really loved
Twitter in its heyday, and I am certainly
one of them, um, you know, it is, it is a
loss, uh, that, that, uh, this is Platform
seems to have been destroyed for as far
as I could tell virtually no reason.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, I don't know We'll
have to muddle through without a place.
We can all go in the public square
and yell at each other 20 24 7 um Uh,
so before we get into the the stuff,
you know We'll we're gonna jump in on
some of these big opinion questions
particularly stuff with parents, but i'm
always just interested Um, and this is
something I've never asked you before.
So I'm genuinely curious.
Like, what was your experience in school?
Like, like what was your, like, you
know, growing up, where'd you grow up and
what was your relationship with school?
Morgan Polikoff: Um, you
know, I was really fortunate.
My, uh, my parents moved to a town called
Hinsdale, which is a suburb of Chicago.
Um, right before I was born, um,
well regarded public schools.
I went to great public schools,
you know, K through 12.
And, you know, I mean, I have a
sort of typical high achieving
kid experience in schools, right?
I was like, always the teacher's pet.
I was, I did really well on tests.
Everything kind of came easy to me.
Um, I was very fortunate, you know, that
the school system was set up to reward.
People with my particular skill set,
um, and, uh, and went to undergraduate
then at a public university at the
University of Illinois and started to
learn in my education program there about
some of the inequities that frankly,
I was just too naive and unaware to
really learn, um, when I was younger
about our education systems, right?
So, you know, I lived in a bubble and,
and I, I didn't realize it at the time.
Certainly now I do.
Um, but I think, you know, what,
what that experience really taught
me is, um, and then some of my other
experiences, you know, going into
classrooms as a student teacher or
doing research in schools was just like.
How unbelievably unequal the system is
and how, you know, the many, many ways
that it's stacked against, um, you know,
kids from low income families or kids,
uh, you know, black and brown kids.
And so that's really been a motivating,
um, factor for me, um, over the years.
Andy Rotherham: And then what
brought you to California?
Is that USC?
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah.
So I, so I did my PhD.
I started at Vanderbilt and then
I finished it at Penn cause I
followed my advisor who had moved.
And then, uh, yeah.
And then I got this job at USC.
It's the only real full time
job I've ever had in my life.
Um, and, uh, 14 years later, here I am.
So, um, All right.
Andy Rotherham: So, fantastic.
And you're in that broad bucket
of people whose school was, like,
very validating, and it was a place
you enjoyed, you enjoyed being.
And so, you, you, is, is that,
that's what I heard you say?
Morgan Polikoff: Absolutely.
I mean, I will say that there were, you
know, there were some small things, right?
So, like, I was, Gay and I knew
that I was gay in high school
and this was a different time.
It was the like, uh, what, late nineties.
And we weren't quite there yet in
terms of like what public schools were
interested in doing to support gay kids.
And so some of that experience certainly
has, uh, you know, has affected me
and the way I think about how schools.
Should support lgbt youth
but um, but yeah, no overall.
I mean just uh, really Extremely
fortunate with my k 12 experience.
Andy Rotherham: Well, let's come back to
that on on the supporting lgbt kids and
and what that looks like but just start
like with this broad question like It's
an impossible question because there's,
you know, over 50 million kids and
their families, but what is the broadly
speaking post pandemic, like what's the
same with the relationship with schools
and what's different now, uh, with,
with the parent, uh, family sort of
relationship with, with, with schools.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah.
I mean, I think what I would say is
it sort of, um, put into very stark
relief, the sort of, heterogeneity, to
use a very wonky term, in the system,
in all its different forms, right?
So, one thing that I think that we
learned was, on average, um, and I
think we could all agree on this, right?
On average, kids learn somewhat
less than they would have if they
had been in school in person.
But actually, there was a big
distribution there, right?
And some kids actually did
just fine in online learning.
And when you talk to their parents,
they'll tell you they did just fine.
And And even, you know, yes, on average,
there's been a test score decline, but
for lots of kids, it's much smaller than
that, or there's been no decline at all.
And for lots of kids, it's
been much bigger than that.
So it really exacerbated things.
I think socially as well, right?
Absolutely thrived in the online setting.
They didn't let school was not
a welcoming place for them.
Uh, they were bullied or they
were just, uh, introverted.
I mean, we hear this all the
time when we talk to people and
they liked being online, right?
And, and other kids, it was
a total disaster, right?
There were kids who needed
that social interaction.
And so, so I think it, so I
think it exposed that variation.
I think it, it also exposed the
variation in, in the ways that schools
were responding to things, right?
You know, in those early days,
it was, it was like, it really
highlighted the local control issue.
I mean, to someone like me, who pays
a lot of attention to and thinks
about that all the time, right?
Like, Um, states, a lot of state, you
know, states weren't really giving
guidance to schools about what was going
on or what decisions they should make.
You had 13, 000 school boards making
these armchair decisions about, you know,
health and masking and vaccines and stuff
that they, and even school reopening.
And so it just highlighted, I think, in
many ways all the dysfunctions in the
system and, uh, and really, you know,
then it just like crystallized, um,
those in a number of different ways.
And so what I, what I think that
you see is that You know, overall,
people actually think that the
school system did okay during COVID.
I mean, if you, if you, there
are surveys that ask parents
about that, and by and large, the
school systems get decent marks.
Um, but there's, there's that 10, 20
percent who thinks it was terrible.
And that's because I think it was,
everyone had such different experiences.
And for some kids, what was acceptable
for other kids was a disaster.
And all that variation was
actually within school, right?
All that variation was actually within
school, not necessarily between schools.
So, um, and it's, it's, I think
it's, so that, that, that's
my sort of high level tech,
Andy Rotherham: was some of that politics
was like in, in some place where like a
social desirability bias around, cause
it became, I thought one of the things
I thought was interesting, you said like
all these schools, these 13, 000 were
trying locally to make these decisions.
And then at the same time, what
was happening was this like
Of covid and you know, Donald
Trump was having those crazy press
conferences every day and people were
looking for like to to to national
solutions to these local problems.
And in that context, obviously,
it got political very fast.
Um, so do you think some of this
also in terms of the way people
respond to what they say is there's
just like a, which team are you on?
And so there's sort of a social
desirability bias around, like, how you
perceive this and what you're willing
to sort of look the other way on.
Morgan Polikoff: To some extent.
I mean, so I would say this.
I think if you're talking about
parents, I think less so than if
you're talking about general citizens.
And one thing that I have noticed
recently, I would say, and some of the
opinion data of various kinds is that
there's a divergence between parents,
people who have a stake in the system
and people who really don't or don't
have kids in the system right now.
I think for parents, when you
talk to them, um, Um, whether it's
interviews or surveys, you just
sit down and have a conversation.
They, they can be very frank about
how COVID went for their kids.
They know what worked and what didn't.
If they're going to be critical
of the system, they're going
to be critical of the system.
And I think that that's true pretty much
whether they're Democrats or Republicans.
Um, although there are, I think we're,
listen, we're all affected by partisanship
to some extent, even those of us who
would like to pretend that we're not.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, absolutely.
Do you think that's more acute now?
I mean, there's always been a gap.
You know, you ask parents to grade the
schools, you ask, you know, non parents
that community grade the schools.
I mean, that gap has always
existed to some extent.
Do you think it's, it's more pronounced
just because education has become
like become again, like more of
a, like discussed political issue.
Morgan Polikoff: I would say so.
I mean, I think, listen, I think
especially on the right, I think
that there has been a frankly overt
effort to drive a wedge between
parents and the public school system.
I mean, you know, Chris Ruffo
said it on Twitter, right?
So, uh, so there's no real surprise there.
It's not controversial for me to say that.
And I think that to some extent
that has been successful, right?
So they've tied it.
Um, you know, some pretty politically
unpopular things to public schools in
a way that clearly has driven, I think,
especially people who don't actually
have kids in the school and therefore
can't see the contradiction between
what's being said and what's actually
happening, um, has driven a lot of
that sort of negative partisanship.
But, you know, I'm sure there are examples
of it coming from the left too, I'm sure.
Andy Rotherham: You know, I mean, talk
more about that because it seems like
you've got there's like two buckets.
There's the like, you know, kids are
using litter boxes kind of stuff,
which is, you know, is just absurd.
And but like, you know, goes around.
But then there's like this other
box of issues that actually are like
policy issues that are being debated.
And so people and people are gonna
be on different sides of that.
So go go a little deeper on that,
because like, there's definitely
some wedge issues being but there's
also like, there's just a lot of
issues suddenly in play on schools.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah,
I think that's right.
And I think that, you know, one
thing that is happening these days,
right, is that a lot of it seems like
virtually every issue gets sort of
like immediately gets attached to
partisan valence that you're supposed
to feel about it in a particular way.
So, you know, one example could be,
um, which I said I didn't want to talk
about, but the California math framework,
right, which has been a, which has gotten
a particular partisan valence on it.
Where, you know, folks from the right
are saying that the math framework is
watering down expectations and kids
aren't going to get to calculus and
it gets tied up in this republican
Democrat thing, although there are
plenty of people who are Democrats
and liberals and, you know, and racial
at, you know, racial justice advocates
who also express concern about it.
And, um, so that's just an example
of the ways in which these things
get sort of tied up pretty quickly.
But I think we're kind of
regardless of the topic, right?
There's lots of other examples, you know.
Andy Rotherham: I mean, something
I've noticed is just in Virginia,
like everything gets put through
a partisan lens, even when it's
not because that's just now the
frame that everybody brings to it.
And so, like, if the state board has a
split vote, like, It's just reported as,
it has to be a partisan split when often
the, there's a split vote, but it's split
across like lines of who appointed Yeah.
Uh, you know, governors for whatever
party appointed particular members.
And that's been really interesting to me.
But like that, that's just lost.
It's just assumed that if it's split,
it's gonna be split on partisan lines.
And I think you see that with like a
lot of things the way it's consumed now.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, and I
mean, to be clear, and I'm not a
political scientist or anything like
that, but my understanding is that
Andy Rotherham: you play one
on Twitter, so it's alright.
Morgan Polikoff: That, that like
the salience of political identity
is huge and growing, right?
And so, so these kinds of things.
I mean that people attach.
I mean, it's just, it's just a, it's
just a very meaningful thing to people.
The partisanship, you know, this
partisanship and the partisan
identity in a way that didn't
used to be so much right.
That like in the olden days, you might
have had neighbors and you didn't
even know what their partisan identity
was or maybe, or maybe you voted for
people of different parties, but you
were actually quite similar on issues.
And these days it's like everything
gets split right on partisanship.
And then also, I think there's
this view that like, Okay.
If you're on the wrong side, you're
a bad person, which also, you know,
uh, is, it's just really toxic.
I mean, it's terrible.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, it is.
And what do you think
is the effect of that?
Cause we're seeing that
in the data as well.
We're seeing there's two things.
One, voters are indicating that
they're more willing to subsume
their own education preferences.
Two, larger political and partisan
concerns, and so that creates a
problem for like issues like charter
schools and school choice and so forth.
And then the 2nd thing, which is
sort of very related is just an
increasing amount of just preference
falsification where people are saying
stuff that they don't actually think.
And there's been some interesting
work on that, but they, they
are staying with the in group.
Uh, because of their other political
preferences, like, first of all,
do you think those things are
happening to a meaningful degree?
And like, if so, what does that mean
for, I mean, you do study education.
What does that mean for education
policymaking if we're in sort of a
house of mirrors environment like that
or political house mirrors, I guess?
Morgan Polikoff: It's a good question.
I mean, I think at the same time, I think
that we shouldn't overstate the extent to
which all of these trends are permanent
or that things can't happen rapidly.
I mean, I think, you know, one
of the sort of taken for granted.
So I'm dodging your question because
I don't have a good answer for it.
But I think one of one of the
sort of taken for granted.
Views of American politics in the
last couple decades is about racial
demographics in particular, right?
And so like that black and
Hispanic voters are Democrats.
And I think clearly they have
been and national elections.
But also, I think that, you know, recent
election results have showed that black
and Hispanic voters are, can be convinced
to vote for Republicans and, and, and
especially that, that, that those groups
are not a monolith by any stretch, right?
That Hispanic voters in certain regions
look very different from Hispanic voters
in other regions, that there are, that
there are effective angles for peeling
off those voters and that culture issues
can sometimes be effective in that regard.
And, um, so, so, you know, I think there's
this sort of view that everything only
heads in one direction, and I don't
believe that, I think that, that things
can change very rapidly, you know, I mean,
no one would have predicted Trump or that,
or that Trump would have had such enormous
long tails, you know, even though he's
been indicted so many times by now, um,
and, and he's going to continue to have
tails, even if he goes to prison or even
if he gets elected president again, right?
Like, No one could predict that.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah.
No, I think that, I think that's right.
And, and like it, but it is interesting.
Like I, I couldn't, you couldn't help butmiss in education circles in:
just no one was appreciating that like the
one group of voters that Trump, you know,
um, wasn't making inroads with, and this
is what, you know, you saw this clearly
the exits was, was white men, right.
Other groups he was making inroads and.
Because politics is,
it's, it's complicated.
And to your earlier point,
we've gotten into these very
reductionist political frames.
And you're seeing this like a real
liability, uh, for, for Biden going into
2024 is, will there be an erosion of
support, um, uh, among minority voters?
Do you think education is
playing a role in that?
Morgan Polikoff: I don't know.
I mean, I think that there are
lots of barriers to education
being sort of a salient.
National political issue.
I just think, uh, you know, what
even are the national, I mean, what
even are national education policies?
What role does the federal
government play on education issues?
I think the, just the vast majority of
people are making decisions on a lot
of other things before they would even
come to education, you know, abortion,
I think will be one that like clearly
Democrats want to have high salience.
I think the economy is one
that Republicans, you know,
want to have high salience.
Uh, the war, I mean, there's a war in
Israel that just started last week, and
who knows what impact that could have.
His age, I mean, there's just
so many issues to me that
come way before education.
So is it possible that there
are some marginal voters who
that really affects their vote?
But as someone who studies education
and cares a lot about education,
I think it would be really wild
to base your vote for president.
on their education views.
Andy Rotherham: They used to ask a
question, the Post used to ask a question
in their polls, and they stopped doing
it, it was too bad, it was, they basically
would ask you if you were going to vote on
a single issue, like would this issue be
it, and education was always around 10%.
So about 10 percent of voters said,
and then you looked at some other
issues, like guns, abortion, like much
higher percentage of voters were like,
I would not vote for a candidate who
didn't share my position on this this
particular issue was only 10 percent on
education was always a soft, um, it was
always a soft issue, but just backing
up, I mean, like Hispanic Americans and
black Americans are more conservative
culturally as voters again, like in our
sector that doesn't show up so much,
um, uh, in terms of the professional
class, but just overall, like that is it.
And our sector is way to the
left of the median, obviously.
Like, so do you think like, I mean, some
of this stuff, it just seems like, and
we're seeing some evidence on this, you
know, abortion is obviously a millstone
for the Republicans that they haven't
figured out how to deal with yet, but
on some of these other issues, it seems
like there's a way to make inroads with
more culturally conservative voters
on, on, on a number of these issues.
Morgan Polikoff: I think, I think so.
I think certainly they're trying,
um, you know, and I mean, you
can see this in the sort of.
edge case scenarios that Republicans
like to talk endlessly about, especially
with regard to trans issues, which I
think is like, you know, the case where
public opinion is probably the softest.
Andy Rotherham: what do you
mean by softest on, on, on,
unpack what do you mean by that?
Morgan Polikoff: I just mean in terms
of what the public actually believes
about trans people and what they support.
I mean, uh, not just in schools,
but in general, I think.
I mean, first of all, a lot of people
just don't understand what it is.
And second of all, I think that, you know,
like with, you know, like with gay rights,
which took a very long time for there to
be majority support for gay rights, right?
That didn't happen until,
like, What the two thousands...
Um, uh, you know, and it took ages
and I mean, you know, we were perverts
and pedophiles for a very long time.
And then all of a sudden
now we're not right.
And, you know, and, uh, I think with trans
is just another group that, um, I think
often gets lumped together with gay for
political for lots of reasons, right?
We're sexual minorities in various ways.
And we have, I think, some similar issues.
But I think, um, you know, it's not
obvious that just because a majority of
people supports gay marriage means that
a majority of people, people supports
all different varieties of trans rights.
And I might personally support all
of those varieties of trans rights,
and I do, but I think that, you
know, there are these edge cases that
people like to bring up, you know,
at, you know, young, uh, con, um, uh,
what's the, transitioning for, for
kids who are pre pubescent, right?
That, that would be an example.
Um, Sports teams, girls sports teams.
God, how much are we talking about girls
sports teams for what are probably like 10
cases in the entire United States, right?
And so these kinds of issues
where I think, yeah, they probably
can appeal to people with more
small c conservative values.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, let's stay on that
for a second, because I, I do, like, the
thing that has struck me, the gay rights
movement picked, like, very attractive
valence topics, so marriage, like, it
was basically, look, you're not losing
anything here, but why shouldn't people
have, be able to marry whomever they want?
You sort of, to your earlier point,
That issue evolved very quickly.
I mean, Obama was opposed to gay marriagewhen he ran for president in:
evolved, but it like, it made intuitive
sense to people, um, and started to
enjoy the strong support it enjoys now.
Cause it was just like, well, you're not
losing anything and why shouldn't people
have access to this, to this right?
And the interesting thing on
the trans issues with schools
is it's really difficult issues.
So we, you know, we've
picked the two big ones.
are this issue of should schools
conceal transitions from parents,
which polls absolutely terribly.
I mean, I'm sure you've, you've
seen the polling and then sports.
And it's like, these are not necessarily
meanwhile, like 70 percent of people
say you shouldn't, there should be
anti discrimination policies in place.
to protect trans people and trans kids.
Like that's like a, you know, a strong
majority position right now, but instead
like the targets have become these like
very divisive issues where the public's
not there and the case can actually, in my
view, be pretty, be hard to make the case,
the case of athletics is a tricky one at
the level of like really elite athletics.
Um, and it's like, it's like they've,
they've, they've good successful
movements, pick really smart targets.
And like Martin Luther King was
like brilliant as a strategist on
picking really, really smart targets.
Gandhi did that.
And they've picked like some unpopular
targets, which are not only to your
point, making it toxic, just are
also making it like politically
just throwing up headwinds.
Do you, I mean, do you see it like that?
Morgan Polikoff: Um, yeah, I mean, I,
listen, there's, it's clear that, as
you say, right, that movements pick
targets and some targets are, are, you
know, are, are better and worse from
the standpoint of being defensible, I
think, to the general public and, you
know, and in terms of where support
is headed, in terms of like appeals
to fairness and people's basic values.
Um, you know, and some of these issues I
think are, are legitimately tricky, right?
I mean, both of those issues that
you raised are legitimately tricky.
As an, as a gay man myself, I can
say that I was out to friends in high
school, and I was not out to my mother.
And if my teachers had taken it
upon themselves to tell my mother,
that would have been bad and very
traumatic, even though my mom
is fine and wonderful, right?
And like came around and
I was not ready for that.
And I think that that
would be a disaster, right?
And so, but on the other
hand, I understand the other
side of the argument, right?
What sounds like concealment,
you know, could be seen by the
educators as they're protecting the
interests of kids and they're just
Andy Rotherham: Can I ask you a question?
I appreciate you being so candid
on this and sharing, like, you've
twice now shared like real, you
know, personal aspects of your life.
Like, is part of, like, I don't
think most people support a
policy of sort of outing a kid.
So finding out, like, Morgan might
be gay, we should tell his parents.
But the issue is, like, are schools
going to actively transition kids?
Like, give them counseling,
things like that.
And, like, it seems to me...
Part of what's happened as these issues
have gotten more and more, um, toxic
and heated up is, like, just that gray
area that schools operate in, which
is not just about gay kids, it's about
a lot of stuff that kids are doing as
adolescents that schools are kind of
aware of, but not necessarily formally
aware, like, we, because some schools
went way over the line in terms of
respecting the rights of families in
that space, we've now like shrunk the
room for discretion, it's become like
a much more freighted conversation.
Whereas before you just wanted a little,
you just wanted a little bit of space.
So that was like, that
was like a healthy thing.
Do you, I mean, do you.
Do you know any sense?
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, it does.
I mean, as I said, and I, and I believe
this, there's just not an answer here.
That's going to satisfy everyone.
And, uh, and I do think that you're right.
That with the sort of, you're right in an
extremely obvious, but nonetheless worth
saying way, which is picking out positions
that people really don't like on average.
And then, you know, forcing, uh,
conformity to those positions and if
you don't agree with those positions
that you're a bad person and a
heretic, that is not a good strategy.
And I think as, you know, and I have,
I, I can tell you many times people have
come up to me and said things about.
You know, very progressive people have
come up to me and said things about
trans issues in schools that they're
uncomfortable with that they would not say
aloud, even, you know, I mean, even I'm
having a little bit of discomfort about
having this conversation with you because
I'm thinking that, um, that someone might
take a sentence out of context and use
it to attack me and, uh, and, you know,
that's just the reality of the situation.
And I'm aware of what
I'm saying all the time.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, no, it is, and
it's, and again, 'cause it's toxic
and it's like this game of Gotcha.
And like you would assume people, like,
I mean, I start from a place of like,
I think like we should champion both
sort of freedom and inclusion are like
two very, and, and our public schools
should, should, should model that.
But you're right, it's very, um, uh, it's
just very freighted and hot and it, it,
and then it's hard to, I, I don't see
how we solve this if we keep having these
conversations where it's like, You know,
people send you an email, but like, don't
tell anyone I said this, or I actually
agree on this, but I can't say it like,
like, we, like, we, we have to just get
back to more of a culture of like people.
I mean, and there, and we should be clear.
There are some people in this
debate who are not well intentioned.
There are some people who, like, I would,
I would characterize are like, haters
are not like, They're not people who are
just like, I don't think schools should
conceal things from parents and, but we
should also, you know, protect these kids.
They're people who go like much further,
but like a lot of the people in the
debate, I think are, are reasonable,
well intentioned, but you can't, how
do we possibly, without a more healthy
culture of free expression, work
through, as you just said, are like
really complicated questions, right?
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, no.
And I mean, I think that, you know,
to some extent I would say what we
need are some good models, right?
We need models of policies and practices
that you know, that bring people together
rather than dividing them, that, that,
you know, that are broadly supportive,
but do protect the interests of children,
um, and, and I don't know, you know,
these are very difficult questions, right?
And so, but I do think we
need some of that, right?
Rather than, you know, turning, you
know, calling something a book ban or
saying that you're trying to indoctrinate
children, sort of both of which are kind
of not really true most of the time.
Like, what is a reasonable policy on,
like, what should a history curriculum
include in terms of, you know, the
represent, you know, the contributions
of people of color, the contributions of
women and LGBT individuals, you know, all
kinds, all these difficult conversations.
We need models, right, that we can...
That are real.
Andy Rotherham: You know what's crazy?
It goes to this thing, like,
if you get, I, I don't know if
you've had a chance to read it.
Virginia's uh, high school curriculum
now on both sort of the gay rights
movement and then like some of the
legal cases, particularly Obergfel
is actually really strong on this.
But because it's Virginia, nobody,
like everybody, for your point,
everybody's so in their corners, right?
People just assume a set of things, which
brings me like, I like the work you do.
I think like one model is just how do we
get back to analyzing things sort of as
they are, not necessarily the rightness
and wrongness, but with public opinion,
just being like, here is the landscape.
Here is what people think.
Here is the political.
Behavior we're seeing without immediately
getting it freighted with like who's
right or wrong or what we believe.
I feel like we've lost the ability
just to say, Hey, you know what?
20 percent of people think this.
You may think that they're the
correct 20% or they're the wrong 20%.
You may not have a strong opinion, but
we, we can't even get to like it's 20%.
We, we, we immediately like, so talk about
that and like in your own work, analyzing
public opinion, how that shows up.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, listen, I think it's actually
a much bigger problem than you
raise, I think with pretty much.
The whole social sciences, um, that
a large proportion of people in the
social sciences in general and an
education research in particular come
to research with the answer that they
want already in front of them, right?
That they know what they
want the research to find.
And it's just impossible to believe
that that doesn't, you know, I mean,
that shapes the questions you ask that
shapes your interpretations of the data.
It shapes whether you even would
share results that run counter to,
you know, your conclusions and, and
this is not just a left problem,
although I think it, you know,
certainly the overwhelming majority of.
People in education research are left.
Um, I am quite left and I am to the right
of most people that I know in my field.
Um, but it's a right problem too.
And you can see that on, you know,
I mean, school choice people who
who's conveniently every single
study they've ever published on
school choice has a positive effect.
It's, it's not hard to find these things.
Andy Rotherham: Or you move the goalposts.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, absolutely.
Andy Rotherham: It's
not about test scores.
It was like the most important thing,
suddenly it's a whole new thing.
Morgan Polikoff: Right, it's not
about test scores, it's about
parent satisfaction or whatever.
So, listen, I'm one of these old timey
people who believes in like, trying to be
objective and trying to get to the truth,
which I think some people, you know, I
mean we could have a whole conversation
about whether there is a truth to But,
um, but, I mean, I think the reality
of the, you know, I think to go back to
the same example of gay rights, right?
Like, how was gay rights, how did that
happen in a very short time, you know?
I mean, it was a long time, but
then it was a short time, right?
And, you know, when I was a
kid, when I was in high school,
like, being gay was still bad.
And within 10 years, that was
not the case anymore, right?
And how did that happen?
Through Y'know, Through, you know, through
public figures making statements, through
people coming out of the closet, coming
out of the closet, through, I think, media
had a huge role, you know, television and
movies, and lots of other things, too.
Um, and I think that, but it's
important to understand where
people are for lots of reasons.
I mean, at its most basic level,
I want Democrats to win elections.
And I think that you have to understand
where your policy positions are.
are supported and opposed, where they're
winning you votes and losing you votes.
And so to know the reality of
how people view issues related to
controversial topics in the curriculum,
which is a report that we put out
last year and we're doing another
survey, it's in the field right now.
Um, it's really essential, right?
You know, I, I think as a kid,
again, as a gay kid growing up in
public schools, it would have been
great to have positive role models
about LGBT people in the curriculum.
I think people actually are
pretty supportive of that for high
school kids, but they're really
not for elementary school kids.
Andy Rotherham: Even for role models?
Morgan Polikoff: I think the
contributions of LGBT people is one
topic that can work in elementary
schools, but you know, in general, other
kinds of LGBT related topics like...
The, you know, same sex couples or, you
know, Children with same sex parents.
People are squishy on
that for elementary kids.
And so, and that's a challenge.
Um, and, and I think that
that will change over time.
And I think that there are probably
more specific examples that you could
come up with that people will be
comfortable with, even if they're not
comfortable with the broad category.
But yeah, absolutely.
It's important to know these things.
Um, if you're gonna, you know, if you're
going to drive change and I think.
And just also, it's just important
to know the truth of things.
So it's a good way for me as a, as
a, as a, uh, a gay college professor
in Los Angeles, who's in the most
ridiculous bubble you ever saw?
Andy Rotherham: You're telling me
you're the median voter in the country.
Morgan Polikoff: All right, yeah, exactly.
It's important to get outside your
bubble and actually data gets you
outside your bubble, if you let it.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, no, I mean, I think
that's like super, we use a book sometimes
that, that, you know, that this, uh, Julia
Galef wrote this book, The Scout Mindset.
And like, just this idea that,
like, you need an accurate map.
It doesn't mean, like, If you
just agree with whatever public
opinion is, you're a windsock.
It's not, it's not about that, but it's
just like you just need to, you need to
know and to your point to win elections,
whichever party you're in, you need
like an accurate view of the landscape.
I was like the Democrats.
I think they underestimated, um,
how popular some of DeSantis's early
childhood policies were, and then.
Consequently, they were out of position
for when he overplayed his hand on
extending all that stuff to high school.
And like, if you had, if you had
actually analyzed the public opinion
properly, you would have been
in a better position to attack.
And instead they, you know, the Democrats
came off like the boy who cried wolf with
some policies that were like DeSantis
said, like, you know, I've said this
before, he has no limiting principle.
And so he like staked out some
like really unpopular ground.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah, absolutely.
Yeah, I agree.
Andy Rotherham: Um, so, okay.
So in your own work, I'm just
curious, like when you're working
with graduate students and you're
like, how does that show up?
How are you like, because I think
you're, I think the way you described
the situation, but it is, everybody gets
upset when you both sides, but it is
both sides like are doing all kinds of.
Um, really sort of motivated
reasoning around stuff.
So, like, how do you and your teaching
and work with students in your work?
Like, how do you guard against that?
Morgan Polikoff: Um, I mean, the thing
about me is that I am, like, very
authentically who I am at all times.
And so it's very hard for me not to,
it's very hard for me to do anything
other than what I just described, right?
So, like, I'm, you know, we did this
controversial topics report, I think last
year, it definitely came up with some
conclusions that I wish were not true.
Um, about what people think about
LGBT topics and race related
topics in the curriculum, but
that's what the data showed, right?
And so now there are ways to write about
it and, uh, you know, in ways that,
um, I mean, the thing is this, right?
So, like, we put out the report.
I think it was pretty straightforward.
And I think, you know, tells the
story of the data very accurately.
And then it's another thing
to then go write a commentary
about your concerns about.
Those conclusions, right?
So like, as an example, one of my former
students, who's now a researcher at
the center that I work with, he wrote
a piece about the finding that, that
parents basically think they should have
more control and be able to opt their
kids out of lessons they disagree with.
And he wrote about.
How logistically that's unworkable,
and it would be a disaster for
various other reasons as well.
And, and I fully, I didn't co author
that with him, but I fully support his
argument and agree with him on that topic.
Um, but that's different from
writing in the report what it
is that the data actually show.
Andy Rotherham: Right, right.
Morgan Polikoff: And so, you know,
I mean, listen, I have opinions.
Clearly, if you follow me on
Twitter, you see all my opinions.
But I think what you, I think what
is hopefully also clear is that...
I'm a straight shooter in terms of
what the data show and I just model
that for my students all the time
because that's just how I can't, I
can't do it any other way than that.
Andy Rotherham: Well, it's the sign
and they used to say, like, you know,
keeping 2 opposing ideas in your
head is a sign of a first rate mind.
I also think, and this is a compliment
to you, I think the ability to actually
do that and to sort of go between those
2 roles, like, is, is, is the sign of
a strong mind and we just don't have
enough of it in the, in the sector.
And sometimes you just want to
know, tell me if it's raining
or if it's going to snow.
I don't really care about
your views on the weather.
I just want to know what's going on.
I don't really care if you like
sunny days or rainy days or whatever.
Um, and it's harder and harder to
sort of get that kind of accurate
forecasting, which we need, which brings
you the last thing I want to talk to
you about before I let you go, you've
been really generous with your time.
There seems to be a disconnect
between what we're seeing
show up in a lot of data.
So state tests, NAEP tests, various
commercial formative assessments,
you know, map and, um, you know,
curriculum associates stuff and
all of that, a huge disconnect
between that and what parents think.
So you study this and as we now
establish, you have a first rate mind.
So tell us what the hell's going on.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah.
It's this really
remarkable finding, right?
So if you ask experts for the most
part, not all people, but experts
are really concerned, you know,
we're talking about learning loss.
We're talking about decline,
historic declines on NAEP or,
or, or pick an assessment.
Um, and, and not just test scores, right.
It's other stuff too.
It's behavior and attendance and.
Lots of different things.
And then you ask parents about it.
And we've done this on our surveys.
But other people have found it too.
And, and parents just
aren't that concerned.
Um, on average, they're
not that concerned.
In fact, I've seen a
few different surveys.
I don't know if this is true across
all the surveys I've seen, but I've
seen a few different surveys that say,
where parents actually say, my kid's
better off than they were before COVID.
More parents will say that
than say the opposite.
And, so what is this about?
The test score thing, I think, is to some
extent the most obvious of those, which
is How would a parent know that their
kid is worse off than they would have
been if COVID had not happened, right?
That's this unbelievably complex
counterfactual that, like,
how would you know, right?
At most, what are you going to see?
You might see percentile ranks,
and you might, if you went to
last year's score, you could see
how their percentile changed.
Or you might see, like, they were
above proficient, and now they're
below proficient, if you were
paying any attention to that.
But it might also be the case
that you don't get the test
scores until next year anyway.
Or your kids taking all these tests
during the school year and they
send you reports and you have no
idea how to make any sense of them.
Um, and so there's,
Andy Rotherham: look, there's a bias,
let me just jump in here and then I
want to, I think there's a bias there.
People have trouble admitting that they're
like on the wrong long distance plan or
that they like didn't buy the car that
was probably the best car for them to buy.
How, I think it's, as a parent, it's
just incredibly difficult to be like,
oh yeah, we made some choices here.
Or, or my kids were party to this, but
a public choices and it's really bad.
And I just think that's like a hard
thing as a parent to bring yourself.
Morgan Polikoff: I think that's, I think
that's true, but I also think, and we've,
so right now we're in the middle of this
study where, so we've been surveying
people over and over again about this
topic, and now, now we actually sampled
some of them who differed in their rate,
their ratings, and we interviewed them
to try and understand, okay, well, what
would they tell us in an interview versus
what they're telling us on the survey?
And I think the reality is,
That I mean, yes, you're right.
It's hard for parents to say,
Oh, my kid was really harmed.
But but but for the most part, they
actually think that once kid, the vast
majority of parents that we've talked
to think once their kids got back in
school, things were pretty much fine.
And they got back on track pretty quick.
And You know, they're doing just fine.
And, you know, one reason is because
they're getting signals from the
school that the kids doing fine, right?
The grades are really high.
If anything, the grade inflation is,
you know, making the grade seem higher.
There are definitely some parents
who will say, This really screwed
my kid up in various ways.
I think, for the most part,
those are non academic concerns.
They are behavioral concerns or child
well being the kid had mental health
issues that cropped up during kovat
things like that There are some who will
say yeah, my kids achievement declined
but I just don't think that there's
there's not a clear signal to parents
about that at all and Uh, and there
probably never really was, but certainly
the very, you know, this, this very,
um, important point about how the kid
is doing relative to how they would have
been doing if it had not happened, just no
one has that kind of information, right?
And so why would we expect
them to be aware of that?
And then why would we expect
them to act on that by enrolling
their kids in interventions or by
pushing for various policy changes?
It just doesn't make any sense.
Well, it's a little, and even like,
it's, it's not just the people
don't know it's being actively
communicated the other way, right?
Like you're seeing a lot of places say,
don't worry about the test scores where,
you know, it's, it's, it's, if you go
on Amazon, usually it's either number
one or number two, the most popular
book is this book on street data,
which is basically a how to for how
to like clutter up the data landscape
so much that parents that you lose the
noise signal ratio gets out of whack.
And so I think I do, I do think there's
an effort people perceive some of this
is like a public relations problem.
Rather than educational problem.
And so that is showing up as well.
And like, it's been hard for either
elected officials or reformers, or
there's aren't as many parent groups like
learning heroes is doing a lot of really
good work on this, but just to try to
just punch through and say, No, there's
a problem here, you got to pay attention.
And so, like, I mean, it's not
surprising to me that parents like do
feel the way they do, because I'm not
sure people are really aggressively
trying to tell them otherwise.
I think I think that's right.
But But then again, I think that Yeah.
Even if people are telling you otherwise,
what you're going to look at probably
is your own kid for the most part.
And if you're getting the signal from
your, you know, as you said, if you're
not getting data that's telling you
that your kid is doing any worse than
they were, if anything, that you're
getting data that they're doing better
because their grades are higher.
You're not going to be
that concerned, right?
And I mean, I think that's kind of always
been true, but I think it's, you know,
it just becomes so important right now
because of the damage that was done.
Andy Rotherham: Yeah, well, look, that's
a bit of a depressing note to end on.
On the other hand, Like it's a, it's a,
like the fact that like people like you
are out there doing, like, you know,
that you're trying to do that work and
just shed light on what's going on.
And again, just build like an accurate
model of the world for people, whatever
they think about it, but just an
accurate model of what things actually
look like at any point in time,
like that, like that's encouraging.
Cause I know it would be a lot
easier for you to, to take a
dive on a lot of this stuff.
And so it's really admirable
that you are out there doing
the kind of work you're doing.
The field's lucky to have you.
Morgan Polikoff: Thank you very much.
Andy Rotherham: I'll end on that.
I'll end on that happy note instead.
If Jed were here, he'd be very
upset with me for not asking
about charters and choice.
We'll have to have you back to, uh, we'll
have to, we'll have to have you back
for a special school choice episode.
Morgan Polikoff: Sounds good.
Andy Rotherham: All right.
This is great.
Thank you, Morgan.
Morgan Polikoff: Yeah.
Nice to talk with you.