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NEPC Talks Education: Discussing the K-12 Educational Policy Response to COVID-19 and Civil Unrest

BOULDER, CO (September 16, 2021) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ladson-Billings is a former president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and current president of the National Academy of Education. Her research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students. She has also studied how Critical Race Theory (CRT) can be used to analyze a variety of educational issues.

Saldaña and Ladson-Billings discuss policymakers’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2019. Ladson-Billings commends policymakers who, in response to the pandemic, provided students with technology, prioritized the provision of food, and recognized the need for schools to provide the resources necessary to support student social and emotional well-being. She is disappointed, however, that more has not been done to acknowledge that the pandemic did not have the same impact on all students and to respond accordingly. She argues for a response that addresses actual student needs. For example, instead of using resources to determine generalized student “learning loss,” policymakers should instead identify the educational opportunities different groups of students lost during the pandemic and provide opportunities tailored to the needs of those students.

On the issue of Critical Race Theory, she explains that although CRT is a framework for analyzing racial disparities, not a school curriculum, those attacking CRT are misrepresenting it in an effort to prevent schools from teaching about racism. On the issue of reopening schools, Ladson-Billings argues that policymakers should be careful about why they reopen schools. She explains, for example, that she finds rhetoric suggesting that schools should reopen because Black and Brown children are suffering from learning loss disingenuous, because policymakers were aware of racial inequities prior to the pandemic but did not address them then.

Ladson-Billings and Saldaña conclude this month’s podcast by discussing some policy possibilities for schools after a year full of crises. For example, Ladson-Billings encourages policymakers to rethink testing demands and be innovative about curriculums and instruction. She argues the pandemic forced school leaders to stop and reconsider every policy and choice. Ladson-Billings wants policymakers to maintain that approach as they determine what policies and practices should stay and which should go as schools reopen.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: