Media Mentions

Know Your Madisonian: From Philadelphia public schools to president of the National Academy of Education

July 22, 2021   |   By Elizabeth Beyer, Wisconsin State Journal

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Gloria Ladson-Billings, UW-Madison professor emeritus and a nationally renowned leader in education, was raised in a working class family in 1950s Philadelphia where she developed a love of writing and history but struggled with turning her passion for the two subjects into work.

“You don’t just come home and say, ‘Ta-da! I’m a writer!’ You have to earn a living,” she said. “I was puzzling over that, and my friends at school were saying, ‘Well, you know, you could actually become a teacher.’”

She went to college in Baltimore, at Morgan State University, but it wasn’t until Ladson-Billings was in the classroom working with students that she really fell in love with teaching. After college, she went back to Philadelphia to start her teaching career. Years passed and she moved across the country to California to get a doctorate from Stanford University. She then became a coordinator of teacher education at Santa Clara University, where she also taught as an adjunct professor.

During that time, she became a Spencer Fellow with the National Academy of Education. The names and projects of her fellowship class were published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which got her noticed by a Bay Area publishing executive who encouraged her to turn her fellowship project into a book. That book, “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children,” focuses on how to lift up African American children, and all children, in the classroom through culturally relevant and supportive curriculum.

While writing the book, Ladson-Billings continued to publish articles, one of which got her invited to speak at a conference in New York in the early ’90s. When she concluded her speech, Carl Grant, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the UW-Madison School of Education, dashed out of the room to catch her.

“He said, ‘You gotta come to Wisconsin.’ And I’m like, ‘To where?’” she said, laughing. She shrugged off Grant’s proposition initially, but agreed to give a talk at UW-Madison. Grant arranged an itinerary for Ladson-Billings’ visit, and the last item on her schedule was dinner at then-Chancellor Donna Shalala’s house.

Ladson-Billings, who was elected to a four-year term as president of the National Academy of Education in 2018, has written three books as a solo author, including the acclaimed “Dreamkeepers,” and has edited eight. Now a grandmother of five, she retired from the university in 2018, but has been busier than ever the past few years.

You’re the first Black woman to become tenured at the UW-Madison School of Education, can you talk a little bit about that?

I hadn’t even considered it. I just knew we didn’t have very many Black faculty when I came. … Dr. William Tate, Grant and I were the three Black folks in my department.

I don’t know that it felt a particular kind of way. There weren’t a lot of us at Stanford. I have gotten used to being the one-and-only in a lot of circumstances. People had mentioned it in different settings and you get a round of applause, and I’ve taken to saying, “Don’t applaud that, that’s embarrassing.” The university has been here since what, 1848. I tell people, “I am old, but I’m not that old.” The idea is that it’s taken until 1995 for you guys to do this? It’s embarrassing.

What are some of the projects that you’ve worked on that have had a lasting impact on you?

“Dreamkeepers” has taken on a life of its own. It is in its third edition, it’s a bestseller. … It’s become the basis for a majority of teacher education programs.

The work that now I’m getting pilloried over is the critical race theory work. I published one of the first articles on critical race theory in education in ’95, so here we are in 2021 and these people are having a fit over this.

I’m very proud to be affiliated with (anti-racist) work, and right now, the National Academy (of Education) has just released a new report on civic discourse and civic engagement, because we were seeing the deterioration of civic debate. This project is really a call to action for our schools to think about the role of civic discourse and civic engagement.

We’ve been arguing that civic discourse and engagement is something that cuts across curriculum. In a mathematics class you might ask a question about inequality in representation or something like red-lining: How does that happen? What do the numbers look like? Well, there are civic implications to creating segregated neighborhoods. Or in science: Why would you have an inordinate amount of people of color more impacted by COVID-19? So then you begin to ask questions about things like underlying conditions or questions about genetic issues. … It’s a way for us to have a deeper conversation about our civic engagement.

You retired from UW-Madison in 2018, but you’ve been busy since then. So what’s going on?

One of the real draws for me to stay in Madison is my involvement with Mt. Zion Baptist Church. I joined the church as soon as I came here, and they’ve just been a wonderful support for me, my family, and I’ve been actively engaged with them.

When I think about my own work, I think it is a combination of faith, family, community and intellectual pursuit. I think I’ve found a way to bring those all together.

You have said public education is the foundation of democracy. Can you expand on that?

I gave a talk for Stanford a couple of weeks ago and I used the quote from Benjamin Franklin coming out of the Constitutional Convention, and a woman asks him, “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” And Franklin’s response is, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” He didn’t say if we, the founding fathers in this building could keep it. He said if you as a citizen can keep it.

There is no way we can keep it without educated citizens, it’s just not possible. It’s in school that kids really learn democracy, in public school because it’s the place where everybody has access. It’s why the fight is so vicious right now around this notion of which history to teach? People mad about the 1619 Project curriculum materials coming out of New York Times versus the Project 1776 that the previous president wanted people to have. The thing about our history is that it isn’t pretty, but it’s real, and it tells us who we are, warts and all.

People say to me, “You seem to be down on the U.S.,” and I say, “No, you don’t understand. I am the greatest patriot you will ever meet, because I want the country to live up to its ideals.” The 14th Amendment says I’m supposed to have equal protection under the law. I look at something like what happened to George Floyd and he wasn’t given equal protection under the law, so I want (the U.S.) to live up to who we say we are and not just be content with where we are.

I believe school is the place that can make that happen.

Paul Fanlund: Racist bogeymen and the ‘limits of liberalism’

July 19, 2021   |   By Paul Fanlund, The Capital Times

​From the Cap Times:

My columns regularly extend olive branches to conservative Republicans willing to push back against the noxious and at times violent cult of Donald Trump.

My rationale? A yearning for democracy to once again be safe, for a country that can debate taxes, spending and regulations without the specter of clownish thugs with automatic weapons and camouflage costumes threatening violence. Think Jan. 6.

To get there, Trump and his sycophants must be deprived of political oxygen. So we must win elections, especially in suburbs and other swing areas where capable left-of-center Democrats can campaign as safe and patriotic choices. If that puts me at odds with some on the Bernie Sanders left, so be it.

But I’ve been thinking: How would I feel were I not white and economically comfortable? What if I were Black, and reminded every minute of every day that racial animus remains a motivating factor for so many?

My demeanor, I’d admit, would be less sanguine.

Anyway, I’ve been observing a pattern recently. Those who traffic in racial division gin up outrage and then feign hysteria over one after another bogeyman, most recently that teaching the history of race in America makes white children feel bad.

Two years ago the target was “The 1619 Project,” a brilliant long-form journalism project developed by the New York Times and published on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African-Americans in the Virginia colony. The project’s stated goal was “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”

The radical and racist right understands that most of its target audience will likely never read the project, but can be convinced the whole thing is unpatriotic and anti-white.

Its primary author, Nikole Hannah-Jones of the Times, recently became immersed in a tenure controversy even though her 1619 work won her a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Her role sparked such right-wing backlash at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that she was initially denied tenure. By the time UNC reversed its position, she opted to instead take a tenured position teaching journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Since last fall, the bogeyman for the racist right has been “critical race theory,” which, again, is probably not understood by most of its critics, but serves as a convenient catch-all for white grievance and racial animus.

“Whatever it is, it sounds bad and we can use it to scare people,” seems to be the Trumpist tactic.

Enter Gloria Ladson-Billings, respected professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, current president of the National Academy of Education and a longtime national expert on critical race theory.

She was interviewed recently on National Public Radio. Host Audie Cornish asked: “So first, tell us. Someone lands on this planet. They’ve never heard of it. How would you describe your scholarship on critical race theory?”

Responded Ladson-Billings: “So critical race theory is a series of theoretical propositions that suggest that race and racism are normal, not aberrant, in American life.”

Wow, that’s controversial: Race and racism are a part of American life. Who knew?

Later in the interview, discussion turned to the worry that teaching the centrality of racism in American history might make white kids feel bad.

Ladson-Billings said “the Little Rock Nine, they were feeling bad too,” referring to Black students who integrated a previously all-white Arkansas high school. “I think about the young woman who integrated the New Orleans schools for us. These brave people were willing to fight against racism in a very direct way, put their own bodies on the line. And yet what I’m hearing bears no resemblance to the work that I’ve been dedicated to studying for the past 30-plus years.”

The roots of blame for the white sensitivity around race precede Trumpism by decades, in my experience.

Schools taught baby boomers like me that America is perfect, that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and not slavery and that there were, as Trump might say, “very fine people on both sides.”

We were taught America never lost wars (this was pre-Vietnam) and that Americans won World War II in Europe almost single-handedly, even though the Soviet Union had many more troops and defeated many more Nazis.

America’s acts of genocide against Native Americans weren’t discussed but George Armstrong Custer’s “bravery” was. Defenders at the Alamo were uber-patriots, we were taught, even though a prime motivator for the Texans was their desire to own slaves.

And so on.

So I posed two questions to Ladson-Billings, whom I’ve known for years. First, how do she and other Black leaders stay committed and not grow cynical or despondent, as I suspect some might?

By taking the long view, she responded. “I am old enough to remember the hate that was spewed at Martin Luther King,” she said. “Now there is practically no major city in the country that does not have a street named for him.” The same for Malcolm X, Paul Robeson and Muhammad Ali, she added, referring to prominent African-Americans of the past.

“One of the hopes I have for Joe Biden is that he could do stuff that Barack Obama never could,” she added. “I’m not kidding myself as to why he can do it and Obama could not.”

I then asked her about white liberals and racial progress.

“I use this phrase with students — the limits of liberalism,” she said. “Most of them (liberals) will express what I think of as good democratic values, but they are only willing to go so far.”

She pointed to how as president Bill Clinton felt it politically expedient to support right-leaning positions on welfare and crime.

“You get invested in society and there are certain elements you don’t want to lose,” she said. “Everyone is for the most part self-interested. You can only go so far before people start seeing it as an erosion of something they have or have access to. There are those limits that we can’t seem to get past.”

She summed up the attitude: “I’ll do X and Y, but please don’t ask me to do Z.”

I think she’s right. We’ve all done that, not wanted to do Z, haven’t we?

Video Games for High Quality Equitable Learning

July 12, 2021

David Gagnon, Director of the Field Day Lab at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison, discusses the educational advantages of using video games and simulators as teaching tools. Games offer opportunities to actively learn new concepts and to fail without real world consequences.

Watch the full video here.

The Roots of ‘Critical Race Theory’

June 29, 2021   |   By Frederica Freyberg, PBS Wisconsin

From PBS Wisconsin’s Here and Now program:


Meanwhile, earlier this month a group of state Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would prohibit public schools, the UW and tech colleges from teaching critical race theory, a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is systematic, built into societal institutions since the days of slavery. Gloria Ladson-Billings is one of the academics who first applied the critical race theory to her education policy research. She’s an emerita professor at UW-Madison and now the president of the National Academy of Education. But how does critical race theory cross over into today’s politics? To that, we ask Emeritus Professor John Witte. He’s a UW-Madison education policy expert who says the concept is widely misunderstood. And they both join us now and thanks for being here.


You’re welcome.


A pleasure.


Well, first to you, Professor Ladson-Billings, in layman’s terms, what is critical race theory?


It is an attempt to begin to understand racial disparity. If you look over the history of the nation, we started out in 1600 up into the mid-20th century literally saying that the reason that there were racial disparities is because there were biological and intellectual deficiencies. We’ve finally put that myth to rest and eugenics has fallen out of favor. I would say in the next few years we began to look at issues of equal opportunity. So we had the Brown decision. Certainly we had Reconstruction, we had the Brown decision, the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act. So we’ve had opportunities but they all get rolled back. We can show you clearly in the history of the nation that we roll those back. So critical race theory is yet another way to think about how do we understand racial disparity.


So Wisconsin U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman has introduced a bill banning its teaching saying the purpose of this retelling of American history is to try to set American against American, he says, and that, “the CRT curriculum that enlightened educators are regurgitating teaches our children hate – to hate each other and hate their country. There are no boogeymen holding people back because of where they or their ancestors are from.” Professor Ladson-Billings, what is your response to that?


The boogeyman is that CRT is in K-12 schools. It’s there as much as unicorns are there. It is not taught in the curriculum and I would probably advise Representative Grothman to go up Bascom Hill and look at the plaque about sifting and winnowing which sites an 1894 report that says this is a state that will not prohibit the search for the truth. They didn’t want Professor Ely in the 1800s to teach socialism. I’m very heartened by the fact that we had the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the other day that he had read Mao Tse Tung. He’d read Lenin. He’s read Marx. It didn’t make him a communist.


Does critical race theory teach to hate white people?


Absolutely not. In several of the interviews that I have done before I’ve done interviews with print reporters, I’ve sent them articles I’ve written and then when they contact me, I said, what in the article says that you should hate white people. They all agree, it’s not there. It is not there.


Professor Witte, we know that President Trump banned any federal training in critical race theory, white privilege or other what he called propaganda. A ban that is now rescinded but was that directive the genesis of politicizing critical race theory?


Oh, yes, it was. That and of course January 6th. It goes back to the whole problem, starts with January 6 and then Trump gets involved. But there are misunderstandings about — very different misunderstandings about what it means, I think. While Gloria I think has laid it out accurately, different people just simply interpret it differently. So the people that are proponents of it, again they point to the historic origins of it, slavery, and they also argue that it’s still a present problem now with inequities. The difference is that the opponents say that there’s a blame game here, that the current generation is somehow to blame for what happened historically and it’s their responsibility to rectify it. That’s where you get the huge divide and you get the very strident differences between those positions.


So what should we make of the way that proposals to ban critical race theory as a school subject are sweeping the nation?


Well, my view has been that because of the differences in opinion what it means, you should be very ginger about teaching it. I would not introduce it to elementary students or even middle schools. I do think it should be introduced in high schools because it’s part of current events. It’s all over the newspapers. It’s all over the news. It’s going to be all over this show tonight. And I hope that there are some high school kids out there watching and reading those things. I think there you can discuss it in a reasonable manner. But again, you got to approach it in a gingerly manner because you can get very bad feelings on both sides, both for African-Americans and for white people.


Professor Lawson-Billings, is it part of school curriculum now at the K-12 level?


It is not. It is not. I would not even introduce it in high school. It’s a theory. Who needs theory? Graduate students. Having spent 27 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, I never introduced it even to undergraduates. I worked with graduate students who are looking for a theoretical frame to bolster an argument and that’s where it resides.


Professor Witte, you have said you think actually a different term altogether should be used to discuss racial disparities. Why?


I would drop critical race theory and find other terms – whatever the faculty member prefers to deal with it – racial differences, inequities in race — however they want to phrase it. I don’t think — I disagree with Gloria here. I don’t think you should avoid it. Now, that’s partly what I do. I bring — for my whole career I’ve brought in controversial — the most controversial things I could find. We talked about abortion for example at the undergraduate level, very heated issues. I talked — I studied vouchers, educational vouchers, very heated issue in the education world. I talked about it straightforward and both sides given. I think the same thing should happen here. I think again you have to be very sensitive to doing it. I agree with her there. I agree with that because you got to always watch the faces of people to see who’s being harmed and who’s getting very angry. You can tell that when you have a discussion in the classroom. You can see it and watch for that.


I want to ask one last question quickly of you, Professor Ladson-Billings. Apart from the brouhaha over critical race theory, what is the importance of teaching culturally accurate history?


I’ve been very fortunate as the current president of the National Academy of Education that we have just put out a report on civic discourse and civic reasoning. That’s the place where I think we have to go as a nation. As John mentioned, January 6 showed us clearly we don’t know how to sit down and talk when we disagree. So that’s the work that we have to do, is figure out how do we have civil discourse, even when we don’t see the world the same way.


We need to leave it there. Professors, thank you very much for your insights.


Thank you.


Thank you.

Badger Talks: Is the pandemic affecting our memory?

June 22, 2021   |   By Veronica Rueckert, University Communications

​From University Communications:

If – over the past year — you’ve had trouble finding the right word, remembering to pick something up at the grocery store, or recalling something that happened a few months ago, you’re not alone.

It turns out, the pandemic has been challenging for the memory. In this Badger Talks, Haley Vlach walks us through the reasons why the pandemic has been so challenging for our memory.

Vlach is an associate professor of educational sciences and an expert on how memory develops. Vlach says the pandemic robbed us of our “memory cues,” in-person reminders of things we needed to do or to recall that are typically part of our daily routine in non-pandemic life.

“Turns out,” she says, “that the pandemic is a perfect storm for causing forgetting.”

Another cause of forgetfulness is the uptick of multi-tasking brought on by the pandemic. Many of us have combined aspects of our life in a way we’ve never done before, like parenting and working, and that means we’re likely to forget something in both those arenas.

Other factors that have contributed to pandemic-related memory glitches are social isolation and the background noise of anxiety, according to Vlach. But there’s good news. As restrictions ease and life returns to normal, Vlach says the memory will bounce back. But there may be a silver-lining to all the forgetfulness of the past year. All the unpleasant stuff you don’t want to remember? Some of those memories may be gone, too.

Watch full video here.

LaVar Charleston named UW–Madison’s next chief diversity officer

June 22, 2021   |   By Doug Erickson, University Communications

​From University Communications:

LaVar Charleston, an innovative leader and accomplished researcher with nearly two decades of experience related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, has been named to lead the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Since June 2019, Charleston has served as the inaugural associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Education, where he is a clinical professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the department in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

“It is with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility that I take on this new role,” Charleston says. “UW–Madison means so much to me — it’s where I grew as a scholar, a researcher and an administrator. I want every member of the campus community to feel welcome, accepted and supported here.”

Charleston will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer, also holding the titles of deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, vice provost, and Elzie Higginbottom Director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA). He will begin on August 2.

“This is a role of utmost importance as we continue to work toward a day when every member of our campus community is able to thrive, with no barriers to success,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Dr. Charleston thoroughly understands the challenges ahead and brings a comprehensive and impressive set of skills to address them. I’m excited to see where his leadership takes us.”

In his new position, Charleston will provide overall leadership for the university’s efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and successful learning and work environment for all students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who partner with the university. He will partner with schools, colleges and other administrative units across campus while supervising the units that comprise the DDEEA.

Charleston will serve on senior leadership teams at the university, including the Chancellor’s Executive Committee and the Provost Executive Group.

Charleston says he will approach his new role with an acute awareness of how racial and social unrest and a pandemic have made the past two years very difficult for many members of the campus community, especially students and others in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities.

“These are hard and challenging times, but they are also encouraging times, because there’s a renewed energy on our campus,” he says. “We have more allies than we’ve had in recent times, and there’s a renewed sense of ownership and accountability when it comes to anti-racist practices and making sure our environments are inclusive.”

Charleston says his job will be to “look under the hood” and determine what’s working and what isn’t.

“For folks in diversity work, we’ve been really busy, but that’s a good thing,” he says. “We’re synthesizing our role in shaping the culture and instituting the structures that need to be in place so that everyone feels they belong. There are so many groups around campus doing this work, and everyone from the chancellor and the provost to our deans is making a concerted effort around diversity and inclusion. It’s a hopeful time.”

Charleston earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Ball State University in 2002. He came to UW–Madison in 2005 as a site coordinator for the Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE).

Other positions at UW–Madison followed, including a long affiliation with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where he helped found Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB). He served in numerous capacities at Wei LAB, including assistant director and coordinator of the Research and Evaluation Division. Charleston’s research focuses on diversity, access and inclusion within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. He is the author or co-author of 50 manuscripts, including the book “Advancing Equity and Diversity in Student Affairs.”

From 2017-2019, Charleston served as the inaugural assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, engagement and success at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. He returned to UW–Madison in 2019 to become the associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Education.

Charleston says he wants students to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to the spaces they inhabit. He plans to lead by example.

“What people need to know about me is that I’m a diehard Detroiter – born and raised,” he says. “A lot of who I am comes from my parents and grandmother and siblings and the blue-collar values they instilled in me. They helped prepare me for this moment.”

Charleston played Division I football and sings in Kinfolk, a local soul and R&B band. He enjoys boating, kayaking, biking and motorcycling. His wife, Sherri Ann Charleston, is his “No. 1 colleague and thought partner,” he says. She is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Harvard University.

Cheryl Gittens has been serving as the interim deputy vice chancellor and chief diversity officer since July of 2020, having previously served as an assistant vice provost in the DDEEA.

“Dr. Gittens has done an outstanding job leading our diversity and inclusion efforts through an incredibly difficult and challenging time in our society and on our campus,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “We are in a stronger place because of her commitment to this institution, and I wish to express my deep appreciation for her work this past year.”

Jerlando F.L. Jackson chaired the 14-member search and screen committee. He is the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, department chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and director and chief research scientist of the Wei LAB.

Online Internships Fail to Meet Expectations

May 19, 2021   |   By Lindsay McKenzie

From: Inside Higher Ed

College students who participated in online internships during the COVID-19 pandemic did not get as much out of the experience as peers who participated in in-person internships, a new study found.

Academics at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, which is housed within the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, published the findings of their research into online internships yesterday.

The study, which included survey data from nearly 10,000 students at 11 colleges and universities, found just 22 percent of respondents participated in an internship in the past year. Of these internships, half were in person and the remainder online. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program, known as RAPID.

When the pandemic hit the U.S. in spring 2020, interest in online internships grew, said Matthew T. Hora, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at UW Madison. Many people naturally assumed that most in-person positions would be shifted online, he said, but that does not appear to have been the case.

Key Findings

Researchers came away with several key findings:
A Need to Work With Employers

  • Internship participation during the COVID-19 pandemic was low, with 22.1 percent of students taking an internship. Of these, roughly 50 percent took online positions, and 50 percent in person.
  • Online internship networking programs are pivotal to connecting students and employers, but there were many more students registering for these platforms than open positions, with demand far outstripping supply.
  • Students who participated in online internships tended to have high grade point averages and come from upper-income families, suggesting that online interns represent a narrow slice of the student population.
  • A higher percentage of online internships were unpaid versus in-person internships—42 percent unpaid online versus 34.9 percent unpaid in person.
  • Online interns report lower satisfaction with their experience than in-person interns. Online interns also reported lower scores for both academic and developmental value, as well as networking opportunities.
  • Online internships need to be designed with greater attention to task design, supervision and communication.
  • Employers and postsecondary institutions will require training to improve how online internships are designed and implemented.

Internships can vary widely by their organization, their objectives and their usefulness to students and employers. Many of the challenges with online internships highlighted in the report are consistent with the challenges experienced by employees who switched to remote work during the pandemic. They include navigating new communication channels.

“Without in-person opportunities, it’s extremely difficult for students to establish strong connections within a work environment, namely through networking or casual water-cooler talk,” said Kevin Davis, the founder and executive director of First Workings, a nonprofit organization that connects high school students in New York City with paid summer internships.

Losing out on in-person networking opportunities is particularly detrimental for students coming from first-generation or low-income households “who may not have social capital in the student’s aspiring career or industry,” Davis said.

When the pandemic hit, First Workings made the difficult decision to shift from in-person internships to one-on-one virtual mentorships instead.

“Our main priority was providing opportunities for students to build social capital, while mitigating the disengagement seen in a virtual environment,” Davis said.

The mentorship program included frequent meetings between students and First Meetings staff, mental health check-ins and a stipend to help mitigate the lack of in-person work opportunities available, he said.

“Creating an environment that encourages mentorship is a vital step to ensure your online internship is a successful one,” Davis said. “If an internship does not include set mentorship programs, students should reach out to professionals at the company and ask for advice on how to find an appropriate mentor.”

In addition to employers thinking about how to build connections between supervisors and students, Hora, the report’s co-author, recommends that colleges start engaging more with companies to discuss how to design meaningful learning experiences. Problem-based learning, where students are given a real-world problem to solve, works particularly well for internships and benefits both the employer and the intern, Hora said.

The study highlights an employer called TreeHouse Foods that offers an online internship program that Hora and his colleagues feel is particularly well designed. Unlike some other employers, TreeHouse Foods treats its online internships as an important recruitment pipeline—not something they are doing as a service or to find cheap labor, according to Hora.

Before the pandemic, the number of online internships was growing, Hora said. He expects online internships to continue to grow as companies gain experience operating remotely. That said, there are some professions that are unlikely to transition to fully online internships.

“I don’t think we’ll see many welding internships move online, for example—or at least I hope we don’t,” Hora said. There are some experiences that will remain important to have in person, particularly for hands-on and STEM-based professions.

Over the past five years, online recruitment platform Handshake has also seen the number of remote internships available to college students increase, said Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at the company. She said that employers appear to now be engaging in a more deliberate “remote-first internship strategy.”

“Between 2019 and 2020, the number of remote learning internship postings on Handshake increased almost 500 percent,” Cruzvergara said. “Looking into the future, it is clear that COVID-19 has made a lasting impact on the way employers and students conduct internships, prompting employers to build the infrastructure and systems to support remote arrangements.”

Employers are realizing that online internships and online recruiting more broadly can help them expand their candidate pool and diversify their teams, said Cruzvergara. Employers can now “truly include those qualified and not just those who have the means to travel and live somewhere different for three months,” she said.

Though Hora acknowledges that online internships could help to plug equity and opportunity gaps for students from lower-income backgrounds or who are unable to travel, he says there is little evidence so far that online internships are particularly beneficial to students, nor that they are leveling the playing field.

Students who completed online internships in the past year tended to be from wealthier families and have higher grade point averages than their peers. They also tended not to be first-generation students or students who are studying STEM subjects. Hora and his colleagues plan to look further at these demographics and examine more data on online internships as part of the upcoming National Survey of College Internships, which is due to launch in October.

“While remote work and online internships will remain a reality for many professions and sectors, it is clear that colleges and universities need to work with employers to ensure they are as effective learning experiences as an in-person position,” Hora said in a statement accompanying the release of the study.

“Until then,” Hora continued, “the online internship should be viewed with caution as a form of experiential learning—one with great potential to reach thousands of students unable to take an in-person position, but something that is clearly a work in progress.”

Wisconsin schools look to continue, expand future virtual options

April 22, 2021   |   By Amanda St. Hilaire, Fox 6 Milwaukee

From Fox 6 Milwaukee

Students across Wisconsin had no choice when school buildings shut down one year ago. Now, even as school districts point to the rapid shift to virtual learning as a factor in declining academic performance, administrators are exploring the idea of expanding future online learning.

“Districts that are able to get on top of that more quickly will be much better positioned to meet families’ needs,” Wisconsin Center for Education Research scientist Dr. Bradley Carl said. “And conversely, districts that don’t get going with that are going to lose enrollment.”

The demand for virtual

Public records from the ten largest school districts in southeast Wisconsin show grades took a hit across the board during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, even in the districts among the first to offer fully in-person options.

Interactive map

While there are several reasons, with unique factors in each districts, administrators say the sudden shift to at-home and virtual learning in March 2020 played a role.

“I don’t think it’s so much that there’s something inherently awed about virtual learning,” Carl said. “We had large numbers of teachers that, with very little preparation, suddenly had to take everything that they had done for a period of years in an in-person environment were told, ‘Now you have to deliver this with very little preparation.’”

“It’s harder to engage students meaningfully in virtual environments,” Carl continued. “And the speed at which we were asked collectively, K-12 in particular, to ramp this up and scale this up was not conducive to delivering the most engaging kind of content.”

Carl cites research showing before the pandemic, demand for virtual learning was steadily increasing. However, he points out those were courses designed for online with teachers who were used to the platform. In other words, pre-pandemic virtual learning was a far cry from what most Wisconsin students got when buildings shut down. Some students saw noticeable declines in their grades; some, like West AllisWest Milwaukee freshman Izabella Barrera, did well academically but still found it more challenging to stay on top of her grades.

“While I was in virtual, my motivation really went down,” Izabella said. “It plummeted. And that was one of the reasons why I went to in-person once I had the choice.”

But some students say they like the freedom of learning virtually. For other families, virtual allows them to mitigate the risks of health concerns.

Racine Unified School District senior Hailey Mattek says virtual learning took a toll on her mental health, but she chose to remain virtual once the school district gave her the choice to go back to in-person learning. “I have two parents that are both high-risk, and I took it very seriously,” Mattek said. “I made a decision to keep my family safe.”

“We had several family members who suffered from this disease and several family members that died from this disease,” Adija Greer Smith, whose sons attended Milwaukee Public Schools and Mequon-Thiensville this year. “So the emotions of the decision, with the risk of him going to a place where he could bring it home and having an elderly grandmother who is already extremely ill having to make those hard decisions was something that we had to do and we had to look at it from a safety perspective, with the hopes and the prayers that his academics would not completely fail.”

Carl says going forward, the key will be whether districts can offer quality virtual options so they don’t lose families like Greer Smith’s; she says she moved out of MPS school district because she was dissatisfied with the resources available to her son during online learning. “A parent should not have to go to going to the extreme of trying to move into an area just so that their children can have a quality education,” Greer Smith said.

What does the future look like?

In interviews with FOX6, Kenosha, West Allis-West Milwaukee, West Bend, and Sheboygan school district administrators all brought up continuing, and in some cases expanding, virtual options for students next year.

“Throughout everything, we’ve tried to preserve and protect choice for our families and our students,” West Bend superintendent Jennifer Wimmer said.

“Our superintendent and leadership is not operating with the notion of getting back to what it was,” Kenosha Unified School District Chief Information Officer Kris Keckler said. “We don’t think it will ever be that way again.”

Keckler provided FOX6 with additional student performance data, including numbers showing a higher amount of virtual students failing classes than students who chose the hybrid option.

“I think a lot of parents are going, ’Well, then why even continue with the virtual option when the pandemic is over?’” FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire asked.

Keckler, who previously served as a virtual school principal, said the current data reects a quick switch to online learning; the goal is to provide a more stable, planned virtual option that could benefit students who learn well in that format down the road. “Knowing that it’s not for everybody, I’m not going to make a blanket statement to say virtual education failed everybody,” Keckler said. “That’s not it.”

“I’d be hard-pressed to say that if a student was failing virtually right now, that we banish them to never operate virtually again,” Keckler added. “In the same sense that we’ve had students that fail horribly in person but we don’t tell them that they can’t come in person anymore.”

Classroom stability

As school districts plan future virtual options, one challenge will be ensuring they choose a model that is sustainable for both families and educators.

“My concern is these teachers are going to get burned out,” Oak Creek-Franklin parent Jennifer Heiges said.

For the last year, teachers have been rapidly shifting platforms while trying to keep students engaged. They’re already tasked with revamping curriculum next year to catch up struggling learners, all while trying to help students manage increasing mental health issues.

As districts started to give families choices of virtual or in-person learning, the result was often teaching students face-to-face and behind screens simultaneously. “It felt like the work hours became longer than just that eight-hour day, where kids were able to access you late into the night and early in the morning, whenever they needed,” Waukesha South High School instructional coach Alyssa Behrendt said. “And the managing of both students at home and students in front of you was a big learning curve for everyone.”

“Teachers are having to do so much more work this year,” Behrendt added. “And it’s good work in that they would do it for the kids and we are always keeping the kids at the front. But it’s a lot, yeah. You have the re-teaching the current curriculum, you have the students who are always virtual, you have the kids that are coming face to face and it is definitely a lot to manage.”

“How do you avoid burnout?” FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire asked.

Behrendt paused, then laughed.

“It’s been impossible this year,” she said. “Honestly, I think that everybody has hit the wall at some point and needed to take a step away…this has been the longest school year of my life. It’s also been a very powerful school year in seeing the resilience of students and sta. It’s one of those situations where we only come out of this stronger.”

Administrators like Keckler say they recognize the challenges of simultaneously teaching in multiple formats, and hope to iron out solutions as they figure out how to expand virtual options.

“This will ripple for years to come,” Keckler said.

New projects study root causes of inequalities and how to reduce their effects

April 15, 2021   |   By Natasha Kassulke, UW-Madison News

​From UW-Madison News

Fifteen projects — from improving doctor-patient communications for high-risk patients, to using data to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, to better understanding the factors that influence success and well-being of Hmong-American students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — have been chosen for the Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative.

The projects were selected from 73 proposals. The initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The proposals we received are evidence of the exceptionally wide breadth of research on our campus targeting inequalities based on factors such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and geography,” says Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for research in the social sciences. “The projects will help build a body of evidence that can contribute to addressing these varied and complex inequalities with implications for reducing both them and their ill effects. They stand to produce real-world, actionable knowledge about how programs, policies and practices can be leveraged to reduce inequalities in U.S. society.”

The initiative is designed to support research that moves beyond scholarship that just describes the causes and consequences of inequalities; the emphasis is also on producing real-word, evidence-based solutions for reducing a host of inequalities on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic standing, language, minority status, country of origin and immigration status.

The chosen projects rely on a variety of methods ranging from surveys, field experiments and in-depth interviews to collect new data and on analyzing existing data, evaluating training programs and assessing case studies.

“Although inequality is pervasive, these projects provide innovative ideas about how to meet some of society’s greatest challenges. The research portfolio supported by this initiative is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on ideas and tools from sociology, psychology, pharmacy, education, law and beyond,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “These projects will greatly enhance the UW­–Madison research landscape in an area of critical societal need and engage with our broader communities in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.”

For example, one project — Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients — examines how to improve communication between white doctors and patients of color and how to build patients’ trust in their doctor.

A second project — Race, Class and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice — launches a pilot designed to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, why they do and do not turn to law, and with what outcomes. The project speaks to the growing effort to stimulate a movement to reform American civil justice, potentially mirroring on the civil side the robust and influential movement to reform America’s criminal justice system.

Another project — Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19 —

builds on a partnership with the Milwaukee-based community organization Voces de la Frontera to examine occupational health and safety issues and housing insecurity by training research assistants and members of the communities most directly affected to document problems and generate knowledge that can contribute to solutions. The project further addresses threats to health and safety that essential immigrant workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the home and in the workplace.

A fourth project — Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-School — partners with the national nonprofit Local Voices Network to assess whether training journalists and journalism students in reaching out and facilitating discussions with marginalized groups can amplify these groups’ voices in public dialogues about the inequities to which they are disproportionately subjected.

Research grants were supported in two categories: projects less than $100,000, and those up to a maximum of $250,000.

The projects and their principal investigators and co-PIs are:

Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-Schools
Susan Robinson, professor of journalism and mass communications

Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients
Markus Brauer, professor of psychology

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities During the COVID-19 Crisis
Christine Durrance, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Jessica Pac, assistant professor of social work
Deborah Ehrenthal, professor of population health sciences and obstetrics/gynecology

Psychedelic Outcomes: Interaction of Environment, Self-Identity and Success
Cody Wenthur, assistant professor of pharmacy

Transgender, Two-Spirit, and Nonbinary Populations
Stephanie Budge, associate professor of counseling psychology

Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19
Armando Ibarra, associate professor with the School for Workers
Carolina Sarmiento, assistant professor of civil society and community studies
Revel Sims, assistant professor of planning and landscape architecture

Reducing STEMM Inequality Via Culturally Aware Mentoring
Angela Byars-Winston, professor of medicine
Christine Pfund, senior scientist for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

The Foundational Inequality — Race Differences in Equal Opportunity in the United States
Jason Fletcher, professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Eric Grodsky, professor of sociology

Impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Intergenerational Health Mobility
Yang Wang, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Katie Jajtner, assistant scientist for the Center for Demography of Health and Aging

Teaching Local Socio-Scientific Issues to Latinx English Learners
Diego Roman, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities in Higher Education: Lessons from Hmong American College Student-Engaged Participatory Action Research
Matthew Hora, assistant professor of liberal arts and applied studies
Stacey J. Lee, professor of educational policy studies
Bailey Smolarek, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research
Matthew Wolfgram, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Using Social Policy to Promote Financial Inclusion: Minimum Wage Policies and Families’ Access to Financial Services
Megan Bea, assistant professor of human ecology

A Parent-Led Intervention to Reduce Children’s Racial Biases
Patricia Devine, professor of psychology
Kristin Shutts, professor of psychology
Colleen Halliday, professor at the Medical University of South Carolina

Race, Class, and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice
Tonya Brito, professor of law

Understanding and Preventing the Reproduction of Gender and Racial Inequalities in the Big Data Era
Kangwook Lee, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering
Eunsil Oh, assistant professor of sociology

Report: Outcomes-Based Funding Models Need to be Made More Equitable

April 7, 2021   |   By Sara Weissman, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

​From Diverse Issues in Higher Education

More than 30 states have outcomes-based funding models, which allocate money to colleges and universities at least partly based on various metrics for student success. But a new report by The Education Trust – examining outcomes-based funding formulas across the country from 2017 to 2020 – argues that these models perpetuate inequities in the ways they’re currently designed.

For one thing, these formulas often penalize underresourced institutions, creating a cyclical “self-fulfilling prophecy,” noted co-author Dr. Kalya C. Elliott, the Education Trust’s interim director for higher education policy.

“…Institutions that do the lion’s share of serving students of color and low-income students – and already have fewer resources – continue to receive fewer resources and smaller allocations through the outcomes-based funding model, giving them less and forcing them to do more with less,” Elliott said.

In particular, research shows minority serving institutions, like historically Black colleges and universities, “tended to lose more money” in states using these models, compared to their predominantly White counterparts, said Dr. Nicholas Hillman, associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis and director of the Student Success Through Applied Research Lab at University of Wisconsin. He co-authored a 2018 study called “The Equity Implications of Paying for Performance in Higher Education.”

In Tennessee, for example, he found that Tennessee State University, the state’s only HBCU, gained virtually no new funding since a performance-based funding model was put in place, while other campuses made significant gains.

“That was, I guess, on some level, not at all surprising because a lot of these formulas at the time didn’t try to make any adjustments for students’ race or ethnicity or the profile of students served by colleges,” Hillman said.

The Education Trust report suggests that, overall, performance-based funding models still neglect to sufficiently measure and incentivize positive outcomes for low-income students and students of color.

It found that 26 states base funding partly on whether institutions are increasing success for students from low-income families. But only 19 states include success metrics for students of color. A mere six states incorporate minority student enrollment as a part of their formula, and only four states include or allow a measure for campus racial climate.

To Elliott, that’s a significant omission.

“Entry and exit, enrollment and completion, are the bookends of a students’ experience,” she said. “What happens in between is incredibly important, and what happens in between captures their lived, day-to-day experience. We think it’s important that institutions provide campuses that are safe, that are welcoming, that are inclusive and that prepare students to engage with their peers and in their careers in ways that are based in equity and justice.”

In the absence of an equity focus in these formulas, the report points to cases where universities actually became more selective, decreasing their low-income student and minority student enrollment, or pushed students toward associate and certificate degrees, rather than bachelor’s degrees, to keep success metrics up.

To avoid this, Elliott recommends states bake equity into their success measures, but that’s just a start.

“A state has to have the right metrics, it has to have the right funding and it has to have the right implementation,” she said. “There are states that have equity metrics for race but are assigning so little funding through the system that it’s not enough to actually incentivize changes in institutional behavior and it’s not enough to actually give institutions enough resources to invest in the type of student success models that would improve completion.”

The report lays out a detailed step-by-step guide to designing – and implementing – more equitable and stable outcomes-based funding models. It advocates for mandatory equity metrics that include race and socioeconomic status, giving extra weight for enrollment of low-income students and students of color and incentivizing a positive racial climate.

It also calls on states to reward schools making incremental progress toward larger student success goals and to give them a grace period to adjust to new requirements, so underresourced institutions can build up their capacity.

The report asserts that, to do this, state-level officers need to be diverse, seek input from the schools disproportionately serving underrepresented students and invest in their student supports, among other strategies.

Outcomes-based funding formulas can be a powerful tool for change, Elliott said, if crafted correctly.

Discussions about outcomes-based funding “can be narrowly focused on graduation or completion as success, and this report was an opportunity to broaden that …” she said. “Outcomes-based funding can broaden the definition of student success to make sure the institutions that are serving low-income students and students of color have the resources they need to do so.”

For Hillman, looking at performance-based funding through an equity lens, as this report does, feels like a “natural evolution” for policymakers and an opportunity to jumpstart a “growth process.”

“I’m so excited that the field is warming up to these conversations and having these conversations,” he said. “I don’t think a few years ago we would be talking about this … Metrics are socially constructed. They’re politically constructed. Metrics by themselves are not fair. There are people making choices about what metrics go into these models. [And] these models should be reflecting on the distribution of who benefits and who’s burdened by the formula.”

The School of Education Sponsors Lecture Promoting Ideals of Antiracism

March 25, 2021   |   By St. John's University

​From St. John’s University

Our society faces many concurrent challenges in addition to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anti-Black racism, the threat of financial collapse, and the frequency of environmental disasters often co-exist. Taken together, these four crises have a devastating effect on the nation’s young people of color who confront a variety of daily fears, including eviction, poor air and water quality, racism, and food insecurity.

That was the message conveyed by Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D., during her virtual lecture, “Developing Asset-Based Approaches to Address Racial Trauma in K–12 Schools.” The lecture, sponsored by The School of Education, primarily sought to define how institutions and individuals can adopt the tenets of antiracism. Dr. Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

She noted that diversity is celebrated in nature, yet it is something with which humanity has always had a problematic relationship. “Systemic racism and implicit bias continue to help deny African Americans the same opportunities as their white peers,” she said.

Dr. Ladson-Billings added that the concept of race is to rank, or create, hierarchy. “It’s an organizing principle for distributing benefits.” She noted that more African American and Latinx individuals have succumbed to COVID-19 because of less access to adequate medical care.

Dr. Ladson-Billings added that the concept of race is to rank, or create, hierarchy. “It’s an organizing principle for distributing benefits.” She noted that more African American and Latinx individuals have succumbed to COVID-19 because of less access to adequate medical care.
Schools play directly into the racial narrative, Dr. Ladson-Billings stressed, through the use of tracking and ability grouping, special education referral, suspension and expulsion rates, and lack of access to enrichment programs. In order for this to change, teachers, administrators, and policy makers have to take deliberate and affirmative actions.

“We have to get in front of this problem,” she said.

Race does not biologically exist, Dr. Ladson-Billings emphasized. “Yet, how we identify with race is so powerful that it influences our experiences and shapes our lives.” She added that in a society that privileges whiteness, racist ideas are considered normal throughout our culture, and racist views justify the unfair treatment of people of color.

Dr. Ladson-Billings said that racism is not only about individual mindsets and actions; racist policies contribute to our polarization and threaten the equity in our systems and the fairness of our institutions. “To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives.”

Dr. Ladson-Billings noted that people who do not speak up for Black and Latinx people, do not socialize with them, and do not advocate on their behalf, cannot attest to being antiracist.
Dr. Ladson-Billings promotes the notion of culturally relevant pedagogy, which is comprised of three important elements: student learning, cultural competence, and socio-political or critical consciousness. “At its heart, it’s about social transformation, not about getting more aid or more services,” she stressed.

“No one is born racist or antiracist,” she explained. “These result from the choices we make. Being antiracist results from making a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, and equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life.” In the absence of making these choices, people perpetuate white supremacism.

After the lecture, David L. Bell, Ed.D., Dean, The School of Education, stressed the need for these ongoing conversations. “It is about more than just K–12. Higher education also needs to look at trauma and the challenges with the curriculum. We need to ask, ‘how do we see teaching and learning through the eyes of students?’”

Newly funded research will use biomarkers from blood to understand how childhood shapes risks of Alzheimer’s and other dementias

March 3, 2021   |   By University of Minnesota News and Events

From University of Minnesota News and Events

The University of Minnesota announced today it will begin collecting blood samples from a diverse sample of 25,520 people around the country to better understand how early-life conditions and experiences shape later-life risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The research, supported by $14.2 million in new funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), adds a new component to the ongoing $28.4 million High School & Beyond (HS&B) cohort study and builds upon a $500,000 pilot study funded by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2020.

The project, based at the University’s Minnesota Population Center (MPC), brings together an interdisciplinary team of leading neurologists, sociologists, education scientists, neuropathologists, and survey methodologists from around the country. A goal of the newly-funded component of the project is to understand the biological pathways through which health inequities in cognitive impairment form.

“There is growing evidence that racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in rates of late-life dementia have roots in inequalities in educational opportunities and experiences, childhood economic circumstances, and other early-life conditions,” said grant principal investigator John Robert Warren, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, HS&B project co-director, and MPC director. “This new component of the project will help us better understand the ways in which these early life inequalities ‘get under the skin’ to impact cognition down the road.”

The research team will collect blood samples from over 25,000 surviving members of the HS&B cohort—a nationally representative group of people who have been interviewed on several occasions since they were high school students in 1980—to look for markers of neuropathology that are evident in blood years before people show signs of dementia. While HS&B panelists will be in their late 50s when samples are collected, and Alzheimer’s disease is rare at this age, milder forms of cognitive impairment are likely to be more common among the cohort and may foreshadow the later development of more serious impairments. Some scientists believe there are markers in the blood that indicate Alzheimer’s disease years before people become symptomatic. The samples themselves will also be stored for future analysis and research. The blood samples will be assayed and stored at the University’s Advanced Research and Diagnostics Laboratory. The assay work will be led by U of M Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Bharat Thyagarajan.

The biomarker data is just one part of the larger picture. Using a combination of surveys, cognitive tests, blood- and saliva-based biomarkers, and administrative data, the team will examine how social and educational disparities in adolescence lead to racial and ethnic differences in cognitive impairment at midlife. The team wants to examine how these effects manifest over the course of a person’s life and how educational and social advantages may help people genetically predisposed toward dementia delay or avoid its onset. Ultimately, the researchers aim to inform efforts to develop proactive strategies that reduce cognitive impairments among older people.

The HS&B project is led by Professor Warren (University of Minnesota), Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin), Eric Grodsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Jennifer Manly (Columbia University). Ryan Demmer (University of Minnesota School of Public Health) is leading the microbiome portion of the study.

Alzheimer’s disease, an irreversible brain disorder that slowly inhibits memory and thinking skills, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5.8 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and that number is projected to grow to nearly 14 million by 2050. Worldwide, approximately 50 million people live with some form of dementia.

Population health research is a primary focus of MPC, a University-wide center that supports interdisciplinary population dynamics research. MPC provides an intellectual home and a high level of research support to roughly 200 faculty, staff, and graduate students at the University.

To learn more about the Minnesota Population Center, which is part of the University’s Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation, visit

This research is supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01AG058719.

A year after deadly shooting, Molson Coors has set a course for more inclusive culture — but cultivating real change will take time

March 3, 2021   |   By Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

After an electrician at Molson Coors shot and killed five of his coworkers and himself last February, several employees at Milwaukee’s iconic brewery spoke up.

They told news outlets about racism they’d experienced on the job, and supervisors who didn’t seem to take meaningful action against it.

The Milwaukee Police Department said its investigation found racism likely was not the main motive of the gunman Anthony Ferrill, who was Black. He had been exhibiting paranoia and erratic behavior for about three years before the shooting.

But as reports of a racist workplace climate surfaced — including that a noose was placed on or in Ferrill’s locker five years prior — Molson Coors leadership acknowledged they had “more work to do.”

“We aren’t going to shy away from our responsibility to take a deep look at our own culture following this event,” Adam Collins, chief communications and corporate affairs officer, said shortly after the Feb. 26 shooting.

That Wednesday afternoon, close to shift-change, Ferrill shot and killed Dale Hudson, 60, of Waukesha; Gennady “Gene” Levshetz, 61, of Mequon; Dana Walk, 57, of Delafield; Trevor Wetselaar, 33, of Milwaukee and Jesus “Jesse” Valle Jr., also 33 and from Milwaukee.

On Friday, the one-year anniversary, brewery workers planned to hold a moment of silence at the start of each shift to remember the victims of the tragedy that shook Milwaukee.

In the 12 months since the shooting, Molson Coors says it has hired a consulting firm to review its policies, pledged to hire more people of color and given employees more opportunities to share criticism and feedback — work executives say they know must continue.

But efforts to speak to current employees about their experience were unsuccessful.

An expert in workplace discrimination and diversity said lasting change requires a hard look at a company’s values and sustained effort from supervisors up and down the chain of command on every part of an employee’s experience: from hiring and promotions to the way their complaints are handled.

Repeated, daily acts of racism at work — like those some employees described last year — can wear people down, said Jerlando Jackson, director and chief research scientist at Wisconsin’s Equity & Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In workplaces where employees of color see that harassment is not handled well by supervisors, they might not speak up about their experiences, Jackson said.

Workers who face discrimination need support, assurance change will occur

The issue is two-fold, he said: most workers face both organizational and internal barriers to success. So even if companies work to address some of the structural hurdles, employees might be struggling silently if they aren’t given a chance to be heard.

Each person carries their burden differently. Many people in hostile work environments eventually quit or are fired, he said. “Usually there’s no good end to it, for those people,” Jackson said. “Individuals leave opportunities they spent their whole lives trying to get.”

To create a workplace where people feel comfortable, company leaders must set the standard for behavior, Jackson said.

CEOs and other top executives might not be able to prevent discrimination from happening on, say, the brewery floor, Jackson said, but “you can surely make it known that it’s not welcome.”

Senior leadership needs to put up “strong guardrails” that define what is unacceptable, and, crucially, they must take action when they hear about it, he said.

Those who reported racism at Molson Coors last year said they didn’t feel like any meaningful change happened when they did raise concerns with higher-ups.

One former employee, a practicing Muslim, told the Washington Post after the shooting that he endured taunts for years about his name and his religion. Some coworkers joked that he would plant a bomb in the building.

He didn’t report the harassment because he said some of it had taken place in front of supervisors, and nothing was done. Overcome with stress and anxiety, the man quit after four years, he told the Washington Post.

Molson Coors confirmed last year that a noose had been placed on or in Ferrill’s locker, prompting a company investigation. But no camera footage was available to show who put the noose there, on a day when Ferrill was not working.

A coworker also told police that Ferrill had been called the n-word and a “dumb ape or monkey” by another electrician several years earlier, prompting him to file a complaint with human resources. Ferrill’s report could not be proven and the company closed the complaint, said the coworker, who was not identified in a police report.

The coworker, who considered Ferrill a friend, also said the racism Ferrill experienced on the job was “likely always in the forefront of (his) mind,” but he didn’t think it was Ferrill’s motivation for the shooting, according to the police report.

That coworker had himself reported a racial slur to human resources in the past, he told police. HR’s solution was to keep the two employees apart, and the complaint was closed, he said.

He also said that 18 months before the shooting, several employees of color banded together and went to human resources, citing racial remarks or harassment and “nothing really came of that,” he said.

For its part, the state’s Equal Rights Division said no complaints from Molson Coors employees were filed within the last year. It also said last year that Ferrill had never filed a complaint with the brewery.

Citing federal privacy laws, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year told the Journal Sentinel it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of employment discrimination charges. But Molson Coors last year said there were no active race-based discrimination or harassment complaints with the EEOC.

Molson Coors says it is working to reform its culture and address the discrimination issues.

Leaders must listen to workers, look at core values, expert says

“We’ve started doing, frankly, a lot of listening to our own employees,” Collins told the Journal Sentinel this month.

The company has held focus groups and employee town halls on diversity and inclusion, and staff are sent quarterly surveys about the efforts.
Jackson said listening is a key first step. It’s important for leaders to hear and understand the experiences of those who have faced discrimination at the company.

But an organization also must look at its core values, Jackson said. What a company values will drive its decision-making going forward.

If the organization doesn’t truly value creating an inclusive workplace, “the values will limit possibility, and that’s where we stall, mostly, in our society,” he said.

Collins, from Molson Coors, said the company is committed to diversity and inclusion for the long run.

“What counts at the end of the day is that people wake up and come into work feeling good that they can bring their whole self to work, that they’re not just welcomed but they’re included as part of our culture and part of our workplace,” he said.

Molson Coors’ value of putting people first “can’t just be words on a poster in a hallway,” Collins said. The company has instituted training programs and has created leadership development and internship programs for people of color, among other initiatives, a spokesman said.

After the shooting, Molson Coors hired a consulting firm, Korn Ferry, to conduct a review of its policies and practices. Collins said the company has already implemented some of the recommendations, such as giving all employees diversity and inclusion education and placing a greater emphasis on the skills needed to be inclusive leaders.

Molson Coors’ executives, Collins said, are working to make sure “people know that they can raise any questions or concerns, that they’ll be investigated, they’ll be acted upon.”

Within the last year, Molson Coors also pledged to increase the number of people of color in salaried roles by 25% by the end of 2023.

The company has also touted its goal to spend $1 billion with diverse suppliers over the next three years.

If the supplier goal is achieved, it could be “huge,” Jackson said.

Businesses owned by women and people of color often don’t get opportunities to be part of supply chains of major companies like Molson Coors, he said.

Collins said he is confident the work underway now will continue.

“It’s a commitment that we’ve made. I believe that people will hold us accountable for following through on that,” he said.

As pandemic endures, La Follette staffers focus on personal connections, community

February 15, 2021   |   By Lily Gray and Lauren Laib, The Cap Times


Weekly check-ins have become a staple for La Follette High School’s Minority Services Coordinator John Milton. With students learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Milton serves as a mentor, video calling up to 40 students per week.

“Basically my job was created a while back to help students of color stay focused on high school graduation and going into college,” Milton said, “by building self-esteem and building community and motivating them.”

Like many educators in Madison, Milton’s job has shifted since the pandemic began. In addition to helping students of color remain focused on academics, Milton now works to ensure his students’ overall well-being. This comes in various ways — regular check-ins, virtual Black Student Union meetings and being available for his students whenever they need him.

“The need is so great right now that I can’t even tell you the depths of our work at La Follette… especially dealing with mental health,” Milton said. “Zoom has been helpful, but it cannot replace the interpersonal interaction.”

A chief concern for the Madison Metropolitan School District during the pandemic is preventing the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers from widening. Keeping students involved with school through such personal outreach and social-emotional support is critical, educators say.

One of Milton’s mentees, sophomore Yoanna Hoskins, describes Milton as a second counselor.

“He is really passionate about all the kids he sees and he tries to make school a better place,” Yoanna said.

Yoanna is a member of the Black Student Union and the PEOPLE Program, which helps low income and first generation students prepare for college academically, financially and culturally. After graduation, Yoanna hopes to attend Yale, and has been working with Milton to look at scholarship opportunities.

Targeting the achievement gap

La Follette High School is home to 1,580 students in grades nine through 12, sixty-three percent of whom are students of color. The two largest demographics are students who identify as Hispanic/Latino and Black, at 25 percent and 21 percent of the student body, respectively.

Evidence of La Follette’s achievement gap can be found in students’ college readiness scores. Just 10% of students of color are ready for college math, compared to 29% of students overall. Scores are similar for college readiness for reading, with 10% of students of color ready and 28% of the overall student body ready.

These numbers are from 2018-2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Educators believe the pandemic has worsened the achievement gap.

“The achievement gap is very real,” Milton said. “It’s really prevalent right now in regards to those who have and don’t have… WiFi.”

Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, works with MMSD and 25 other school districts to eliminate the educational achievement gap that exists in schools.

According to Hafner, internet access, home support, the quality of teaching, and degree of engagement all have a great effect on the success of remote learning.

La Follette, and other schools in MMSD, provide free ChromeBooks for all students. Additionally, schools are providing hotspots for students without internet access.

Providing social-emotional support

La Follette’s efforts to mitigate COVID-19’s effects on the achievement gap are not all academic or technology based. La Follette is also putting a strong focus on the social-emotional aspect of student life.

One way in which they are achieving this is through their mentorship program, where students are paired with a La Follette teacher or administrator.

“This virtual mentor, it’s helping us build relationships and (students) can vent to us,” said La Follette Principal Devon LaRosa. “I think that makes us as in-person and real as we can be in this virtual world.”

LaRosa also called the program a “huge connection point” for students and mentors, who are also positively affected by the program.

“We have teachers that have a good relationship with students, but now it’s more important to build that relationship than, they might not be getting that A+,” Milton said. “How can they get that student to survive in these crazy times?”

Valeria Moreno-Lopez, a freshman at La Follette, notices the focus on social aspects of school through the difference between remote learning from March (2020) to now. Lopez said virtual face-to-face interaction through Zoom classes is more prevalent this year compared to pre-recorded classes or discussion forums, allowing for more social interaction.

Yoanna agreed.

“I find it better now because we have Zoom classes, so we can actually ask the teacher in person. We can hear their voice,” she said.

LaRosa said that part of the holistic approach is being creative in how to interact with students.

Teachers and administrators also have been reaching students through their “Lancer of the Month” program.

The Lancer of the Month is a student who is recognized for “taking care of business and getting their work done, or doing notable things, so then they get mailed a gift card to their house,” LaRosa said.

The reason for this program? LaRosa said they’re “trying to come up with different ways to get kids to know that we are here for them and still celebrate them in this COVID world.”

Milton hopes that this holistic approach continues even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

“During this time,” Milton said, “the things that I’ve found to be very valuable is the interpersonal, for teachers, students and parents.”

Using those interpersonal skills are vital for students and adults alike, he said — to not shy away, rather, embrace tough conversations about the issues that matter, such as the achievement gap.

“We have to have more honest conversations,” Milton said. “If we all can sit down at the table, break some bread together and just have those conversations and say, ‘Here is how I feel in that situation,’ and have a better understanding, I think slowly but surely we can change things.”

Celebrating innovators who shaped workforce development

February 12, 2021   |   By Carrie Rosingana, Lansing State Journal

From Lansing State Journal

As we celebrate Black History Month, I would like to celebrate the work of Black innovators and professionals who have integrally shaped our work in workforce development. Today, we celebrate just a few and hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the many contributions beyond this column.

Let’s start with a truly under-celebrated individual in our industry. Dr. Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr. is among the first nationally recognized Black economists, and his contributions to workforce development are broad and deep, dating back to the early 20th century. According to Black Past, “Harris was highly respected for his work that focused primarily on class analysis, Black economic life and labor to illustrate the structural inadequacies of race and racial ideologies.” From the 1920s to 1950s, he authored books and thought-leadership pieces on labor movements, labor trends and economic reforms that would lead to a workforce more inclusive of Black people.

By flipping the too-common question of why Black students struggle academically from what is wrong with Black children, to asking what is right, Ladson-Billings continues to challenge schools, administrators, teachers and pedagogical norms to create equitable education systems.

Just down the road from us, as Western Michigan University’s ninth president, Dr. Edward B. Montgomery brings to our home state a deep background in economics, including a wide range of experiences within the United States Department of Labor, with whom CAMW! works closely. He is now shaping equity and college access for Michigan’s students, telling the Western Herald when he started at the university in 2017, “University is both about education and knowledge, but it’s also about character and finding something that will sustain you as a citizen, and as a human being for the rest of your life.”

And there’s more history in the making to celebrate: A modern pioneer advocating for women in STEM, Dr. Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe co-founded the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics, and founded WISER, the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race, where she also serves as president.

“This profession is what we make it… therefore, it’s going to take all of us to be responsible to make it a better profession,” she said on a recent Women in Economics Podcast. CAMW! echoes this sentiment. We actively partner with Women in Skilled Trades, an organization that provides resources, training and advocacy to women interested in exploring and accessing careers in the construction trades. And our Capital Area IT Council, under the leadership of executive director Jordan Davis, localizes Sharpe’s focus by facilitating a Women in IT Peer Group, among other efforts to help educators and employers diversify the IT workforce in greater Lansing.

And today, CAMW! continues to work to dismantle structural barriers to achieve an equitable workforce. We strive to carry on the work innovators like Harris fought so hard to have heard and respected. Through programs such as the Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope. Program and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program we look to break down barriers that disproportionately affect our Black clients and provide access to education, financial supports, training and other resources to help reduce wage and wealth inequities.

Similarly, all of us in workforce and talent need to know and understand that educational resources and college access are pillars to ensure equitable access to career opportunities for Black Americans. Through dozens of partnerships, initiatives and programs, we work to ensure everyone in our region has access to quality education. By embracing Ladson-Billings’ challenges of antiquated thought processes, we can be more effective and supportive in reducing racial disparities in post-secondary enrollment.

At CAMW!, we believe college IS for everyone, and we believe “college” is any post-secondary education beyond high school. Post-secondary education not only prepares individuals for careers in high wage, in-demand careers, but in turn, it lifts our communities and strengthens our workforce. Montgomery’s contributions to one of our state’s major universities are history in the making.

Today, I celebrate a mere four professionals of the countless Black individuals whose contributions to economics, education and workforce development impact the work we do every day. Because of these industry leaders, we continue to provide programs and participate in partnerships that increase access to education, training and work for Black individuals. It is an honor to continue their work on the ground throughout the years, and next week I look forward to celebrating those making an impact locally.