Sonya Douglass Horsford currently serves as Associate Professor of Education Leadership in the Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research focuses on the politics of race in education leadership, policy, and reform. She is the Founding Director of the Black Education Research Collective (BERC) and Co-Director of the Urban Education Leaders Program (UELP) at Teachers College – an Ed.D. program for aspiring urban district leaders.
Prior to joining Teachers College, Sonya served on the education leadership faculty at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her latest book, The Politics of Education Policy in an Era of Inequality: Possibilities for Democratic Schooling with Janelle T. Scott and Gary L. Anderson offers a critical analysis of education policy amid widening social inequality, ideological polarization, and the dismantling of public institutions in the U.S.A.
She is an active member of Divisions A and L of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and currently serves as Chair of the Leadership for Social Justice SIG and Politics of Education SIG.
- Sonya Douglass HorsfordAssociate Professor of Education Leadership in the Department of Organization and Leadership at Teachers College at Columbia University
- Peniel JosephFounding Director of the LBJ School’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin
[0:00:07 Peniel] Welcome to race and democracy, a podcast on the intersection between race, democracy, public policy, social justice and citizenship. Mhm on today’s podcast, we are pleased to be joined by Dr Sonia Douglas Horse furd, who is an associate professor of education leadership in the Department of Organization and leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University, and whose research focuses on race and education, leadership policy and reform. Dr. Horse Furred. Welcome to race a democracy.
[0:00:46 Sonya] Thank you so much for having me
[0:00:48 Peniel] Well, let’s get right to it. We’re living in extraordinary watershed times. Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen over 2000 American cities erupt in the largest mass protests for racial justice, for black dignity and citizenship in American history. And since your work deal so much with race and education policy and reform, I wanted to have a conversation about the intersection between race, democracy, education and black citizenship, especially with this unique opportunity that we have in the context of not just this cove it 19 pandemic. But with these protests we’ve seen so many different ancient symbols of white supremacy topple almost daily NASCAR with the Confederate flag, the NFL saying black lives matter really hundreds of corporate organizations saying that black lives matter and recognizing systemic racism. So many parts of the country celebrating Juneteenth June 19th as Day of Jubilee and Freedom. And that was when the last group of African Americans or black Americans, in Galveston, Texas, her news from union military officer that emancipation had come. And in Texas, that celebration started in 18 66 and has spread to really become a national celebration. So I want to talk about how do you feel about this moment both as a scholar, as an activist, How do you feel?
[0:02:31 Sonya] I feel a lot of things, Um, and I think a lot of us air feeling a lot of emotions right now. Sadly, I’m not terribly surprised, given the history of race in this country, how it operates and particularly how it’s manifested in schools and education. I think this is a moment where we can actually engage in the process of thinking about the possibilities of education and black futures and education. But at the same time, I think we have to be careful and recognizing, um that although there are a lot of statements being made and a lot of symbolic actions that are taking place. But it’s still very important that we focus our energy on the education of black Children, in particular a black people, and that that includes which I think this moment provides an opportunity to really think about our history, Um, and to begin to study more and to be serious about how we are not only talking about race and discussing it and having conversations, but how are theorizing it? What do we mean when we say race? What exactly are we talking about? Are we talking about, you know, Ah, demographic variable? Are we talking about the color of someone’s skin? Are we talking about a tool that’s been developed to distribute? Resource is politically right aunt to determine status in society. And so that’s, I hope, the thing that will really focus on, particularly within the education, research and practice community, that although we we can make gains, and I think we’re seeing that with the uprisings and the protests, which which really does is encouraging for me to see. But at the same time how we’re thinking about young people, how are we talking about investing in the mines and the education in the preparation of the Children and youth who are and will always be impacted by this moment emotionally, educationally and psychologically.
[0:04:25 Peniel] And so what? What do you think? In a policy sense, we can do both education leaders, parents both k through 12 and at the university, especially given the fact that our story in terms of that black freedom struggle is becoming so well known. The journalist Nicole Hannah Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for shepherding the 16 19 Project. New York Times. The Pulitzer Prize was just posthumously awarded toe Ida B. Wells, one of the most extraordinary black women intellectuals and activists, anti racist criminal justice activists in American history. And now we have so many deeper explorations into the history of Juneteenth. And the notion of Juneteenth is a national holiday, offering us a non opportunity for a public conversation that also has social impact pedagogical e in terms of curriculum not just reform but curriculum transformation and investment in education that may be coming from de funding, police and prison abolition. So what should we be? What should we be demanding and what should How should we be theorizing but also organizing around social impact for racial justice and educational policy. Leadership curriculum instruction at this
[0:05:42 Sonya] time? Well, that’s a great question, one that I’ve been thinking a lot about, I think one of the projects that I currently have underway with the Black Education Research Collective, which is a group of faculty and students and researchers who are really interested in how we bridge research policy and practice around issues of schools and schooling. And we are getting ready to launch a study where we actually talk to black students, black parents, black teachers, Thio Ask them what they think needs to happen. I mean, I think one of the challenges and limitations of the research that we do around schools is that we have often done things for black people, but not with them. And so, while the narratives around educational equity and diversity and inclusion, integration and justice have really taken hold, it’s really absent the voices of black students, parents and teachers and educators and the people who are really on the ground. And so what we want to do now is conduct a series of surveys, focus groups and actually speak with folks to figure out an answer to questions. Primarily one is how is co vid? Um And, um you know, the recent the brutal and senseless murders, um, of innocent black men, women and Children, you know, how has that impacted education in your community and to what should leaders and policymakers do about it? And although I have my own thoughts and recommendations of what needs to happen and I’m happy to share those, I think that having those conversations and actually collecting information from those most impacted is what is necessary in this moment that we can’t rely on the quote unquote experts who have in many ways failed up until this point.
[0:07:19 Peniel] Yeah, And so from that perspective, you’re thinking along the lines of community action programs. Great Society initially invited community members to help design anti poverty efforts until bureaucrats and politicians ended that abruptly. But really, as an educational expert, Sonia, what can you What are some recommendations that you have in terms of what we could do at the policy level, both to get rid of the thousands of racist policies that impact our black Children’s education, but also that would institutionalize anti racist racial justice policies?
[0:07:59 Sonya] Well, I think we need to abolish funding programs that we know don’t really work for black Children. And so I think part of that is the Charter Management Network and organizations, um, that serve a lot of black Children that really have not been effective in educating them. I think it’s going to require, um, ships and funding, obviously changes to state funding formulas. Eso that money’s air actually allocated Thio District’s and communities that have the greatest need and with the largest shares of Children of color and low income Children, I think there will need to be changes in curriculum, Um, and what that looks like and that’s going to require leadership at the school board and district level. Um,
[0:08:38 Peniel] when you say changes in curriculum specifically, are you saying things like our Children should be learning about racial slavery? They should be learning more black history. What do you mean in terms of the curriculum?
[0:08:51 Sonya] Yeah, I think we need tohave. Yes, those things as well, and I think that’s for everyone. I mean, for all Children. I just think we need a more holistic, um, and cultural responsive curriculum for all students, and I think we need to have ah, larger focus on the foundations in terms of Social in terms of history, sociology, philosophy back in schools. And I think that high stakes testing and accountability has really narrowed the curriculum in ways that I would argue have contributed Thio the lack of engagement in political activism that we have currently. Um, when
[0:09:28 Peniel] you mentioned testing when you mentioned testing because certain schools, because of co vid, are now saying they’re not going to take the S A T. In the short term, some are saying no more. S a T A C A C T In the long term Do do black Children and just all Children from K to 12. Do you think they need to take any national tests at all?
[0:09:51 Sonya] I don’t I would have to think more about that to answer that, Um, I think that formative assessment is important, and that assessment for learning is important. Um, and so you know, I’m not a teacher. My focus is really around education, policy and leadership. But I think that we need to empower our teachers to use assessments in the ways that they were designed and in ways that actually helped teaching and learning. Um, in terms of national assessments, I mean, I do think that there is value in seeing whether or not we are educating Children and that they’re learning the content that we think they need to learn to be able to, uh, be active participants in our democracy. Um and so I I just think that we really need to revamp and transform education overall. I mean, I know it sounds, it’s a lot, but I think if we continue to tinker around the edges that were really not never going to see the type of changes that we want to see. And so that’s revisiting the school day. And that’s revisiting how, um, courses air are set up. I have to have three Children. My oldest boys are very vocal. One is in college and one is in high school. And you know, they have lots of opinions about how schools should be structured, and it’s really fascinating because it makes sense. And it’s something that we can do. And I think that the more that we include student voices in this process, particularly black students, um, that we could really generate some powerful and feasible ways of changing our education system, and I think it’s, um it requires change in almost every aspect of it, which is why it’s so hard to transform education. But I think this moment actually gives us a window to do in ways that maybe we weren’t able to before.
[0:11:40 Peniel] Well, when you think about this national moment in terms of this racial justice moment, black lives, matter, movement. Um, what can educational leaders due to try toe make this part of school curriculums? You know, the fact that so many people are interested in anti racism, civil rights, African American history, which is really American history. But what can educational leaders and what kind of policies would we need to make this moment more of a permanent movement, at least in terms of educational policy?
[0:12:17 Sonya] I mean, education is so much a human service profession, right? I mean, it’s really about the people in schools, and so we, I think, need to understand that teaching is a valued profession, that education is a valued profession. I really feel like it starts there, um, that when we change the nature of what it means to be a teacher educator, whether it’s to compensation, prestige. Andi. Also the support that we provide teachers to deliver the type of curriculum and instruction and support that we say that we want. I think that that would then really change education more broadly that it would bring the people into the field that we really need to be able to deliver curriculum that would be equitable. Eso I think one of the challenges is that our workforce currently remains majority white, middle class women, Um, and so we can engage in all of the anti racism and culture responsive training that we want. Um, but my concern is that unless we really transformed the workforce so that it includes individuals that hold a certain set of values as it relates to education, and that is that education is a social good, that education is a valued profession, that it’s a collective responsibility and that it is the practice of freedom that Onley through that that mechanism, Can we really change what education looks like? If not, we will continue to make changes again that compel us to engage in schooling right where it is much more technical. It’s much more focused on inputs and outputs and outcomes Azi identified by policymakers. Um, so I just think that we need to have a new vision of education that’s really grounded in the values of equity and justice on Got Just the rhetoric of equity and Justice.
[0:14:12 Peniel] And when you say that, do you feel that what’s currently happening both at the at the federal level when you think about this current administration. But even the previous administration under Arne Duncan? Um, and I remember when President Obama was elected, his educational transition team was headed by Linda Darling Hammond, who’s done so much work on Equity and Justice, and people felt maybe she would be secretary of education. He won another way with Arne Duncan. Do you think that this is, ah, bipartisan problem in terms of whether people are Democrats or Republicans at the federal level, the policy initiatives that they support so many people support charter schools. So many people still support high stakes tests testing. What do you think needs to be done, especially at the federal level, considering the billions of dollars that the federal government gives the states, uh, sort of in a carrot and stick incentive, Um, whether it’s race to the top programs from No Child Left Behind. What do you think needs to be done at the federal level?
[0:15:18 Sonya] Well, I mean, it’d be great to have Linda Darling Hammond there. E do I do believe in the power of leadership. And I think having someone that has and holds values and expertise and knowledge like she does would be critical that that that would make send an important message. Um, it really is, You know, an issue for the states, though. I mean, I think the federal messaging is important, but again, it comes down to the dollars and resource is and representation at the state level. Um, and I think this is where communities can be more active and engaged in just being involved in state level politics. You know, the Legislature’s the governor’s. They’re the ones that are really determining the extent to which schools are funded and how and what that looks like in our school boards. Still, although, you know, they look very different than maybe they have, you know, 30 40 years ago are still a lever for change. And so while the system is not perfect, I still think there’s opportunities for us to engage in ways that could help build power a T community level and help to shape the agendas around education. Um, so I really think it’s gonna be required more grassroots, especially this in this moment, cause we don’t have federal leadership around education, and in fact, we don’t have a national agenda around education. And so I’m really concerned, but also interested in how we can begin to build that in this presidential year. You know what? What are our expectations next year for, um, well, even this year for Rio openings for investments, for the budgets, for schools? You know, what does that look like? And is it? It’s a moment where we can either exacerbate the inequalities or find ways to really change the structure of schools so that they can be more equitable. And I think it’s a big question mark right now.
[0:17:07 Peniel] What do you think that these conversations that we’re having about Juneteenth and just black history provide leverage for that reconsideration that you’re talking about? Or do you think that this is a moment where somehow it passes on by people aren’t gonna be thinking about education because what I’m seeing is that people are doing sort of in all of the above strategy right now, including criminal justice reform, but connecting criminal justice reform. Thio thes panoramic systems of oppression, which include education and which really include public school segregation that has, um, continued apace. I think Gary Orfield says that, uh, racial integration, the high points 1988 and then we see a real devolution because of different court cases. Court decisions. The Supreme Court Parents versus teachers decision. Um, so many different decisions that have made even voluntary school integration off the table. So what do you think the prospects are of? Yeah, turning this moment into something that’s gonna be transformative for educational leadership and policy.
[0:18:26 Sonya] It’s going to take a black people uniting around a vision of education and demanding it, um, those in elected office, those in schools, those in power. Andi, I think it It’s just we have to develop on agenda around this. This is something that we’ve been talking about for years because I do think some of the other issues trump education. Obviously, what? You know, criminal justice, kind of the immediate things that continue to flare up and education takes so much more time for us to focus on. But I you know, I’m I’m really thinking about in advancing a theory of emancipatory leadership. Um, and that focuses on first recognizing that our education systems are very restrictive and constraining and that they’re part of what is keeping us from black Liberation Onda from really being able to benefit from education as a practice of liberation and freedom and
[0:19:20 Peniel] so in elaborate on that, when you say they’re very restrictive and restraining
[0:19:25 Sonya] well, I mean, we can’t continue to know that testing is racist and bias, but continue to use it way. You know, we can’t continue to know that the curriculum is not, um, complete or relevant, but we continue to use it. We can’t continue to complain about the fact that our teacher workforce is predominantly white, female in middle class, but not do anything really about it. Eso Many times I’ve proposed not reform, but a stop list. You know where we just stop doing. The practice is that educators every educator knows is not working. Um, and just stop the cycle of and the inertia of doing things the way that they’ve always been done and taking this moment to pause and assess our values. I mean, one of the things that we teach in our leadership preparation programs, you know, is vision the importance of vision and values. Um, but I would argue that we don’t really spend time on that. It’s more around the technical aspects of compliance, of responding to accountability measures of trying to get test scores up right and many of us have bought into this system. I think historically, black education leaders understood that they had an obligation to the black freedom struggle, and that’s why they were educators. But now we’re in a moment where we have, ah, lot more leaders who are working as managers and administrators and compliance officers, you know, within these institutions that are really constrained in their ability to advocate for their community while also serving that company of that institution of that charter school, right? So I think the loyalties and the obligations have shifted in many ways, and it’s neo liberal context that make it even less clear in terms of what where the fight is and where the struggle should be. And so for me, although there’s this larger question of how we improve education nationally for all Children. My concern and focus right now is how we think about the future of black education. What has it looked like? Historically, How has it been such a powerful tool? Um, for black civil rights, um, for justice, for changes in policy and for building power. And how do we study that? And remember that and leverage that now, in ways that helped to build the power political power in educational power. I think that’s been lost. Um, when we forget what we’re fighting for,
[0:21:51 Peniel] Alright. My final question is really based off of what you’ve just said. How do we use because, you know, the history of educational policy and leadership connecting to raise. How do we use any past examples of success on leverage? Those, um, for the future? Is there an experiment that it worked in the past? Is there, uh, sort of a shining example off things that work but perhaps weren’t scaled up? Or do we have to really sort of rethink and reimagine all of it?
[0:22:25 Sonya] No. I think there’s many lessons from the past, and this is one of the practice I’m working on now with professor emeritus Edmund Gordon. Um, and we are working on a compendium that captures the history of the education of people of people of African descent, because what the problem is is that a lot of the researchers doesn’t exist in many ways or it’s in different places. And so we wanna We want to compile that and bring it together so that we have this foundational knowledge that educated educators of all races can draw from. There are many examples of black educational leaders and of educators that developed networks across the country free desegregation that allowed them to share best practices and you know, they had conventions and convene ings and Vanessa Settle Walker writes about this beautifully in her work, and I think there’s just a lot of lessons that we can learn there, and I feel that there is a movement afoot among educators. I mean, there’s amazing educators and educational organizations that have been doing this work in the current moment as well, and so I think continuing to do that and to use social media to allow those networks to regenerate in the current moment to share those practices and Thio. For me, it’s really about building power so that we could get the resource is that we need Thio to do what we need to dio, because I feel like educators know what they need to do is just all of the barriers around funding and policy that prevent them from doing it. So that’s my hope is that we can organized around a larger vision, work intense work, you know, together with practitioners, researchers and policy makers to who are like minded to advance an agenda that supports what we know is best for the effective education of black Children.
[0:24:23 Peniel] All right, we’ll end on that note of hope. I’m always interested in hope, even as we lay out the rial details and the challenges and the obstacles that we face. We’ve been talking about black education and the future of education during this moment of racial justice, uprisings and movements. Black lives matter in the United States over the last several weeks, and we are privileged to have had with us. Dr Sonia Douglas Horse Furd, who teaches at Teachers College, Columbia University and is one of the nation’s leading experts on education leadership policy, race and reform. Her latest book is The Politics of Education Policy In an Era of Inequality. Possibilities for Democratic Schooling, which offers a critical analysis of education policy amid widening social inequality, ideological polarization and the dismantling of public institutions in the U. S. A. Doctor, Sonia Douglas Horse furred Thank you for joining us here at race and democracy.
[0:25:26 Sonya] Thank you, Dr Joseph.
[0:25:28 Peniel] Thank you. Thanks for listening to this episode and you can check out related content on Twitter at Peniel Joseph. That’s P-e-n-i-e-l J-o-s-e-p-h and our Web site, CSRD.LBJ.utexas.edu and the Center for Study of Race and Democracy is on Facebook as well. This podcast was recorded at the Liberal Arts Development Studio at the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. Thank you.