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Is Now the Time to Build a Better System? K–12 Education and Systemic Racism in the Era of COVID-19

  • Monday, July 13, 2020
  • Online on Zoom
An empty classroom. A sign with instructions on preventing the spread of viruses is posted on the door.
Photo by JeanLuc

The coronavirus crisis and demonstrations about racial injustice have illuminated long-standing inequities in US education, conditions that have been well-documented for decades but remained unrecognized by many until now.

As public schools and districts plan for the 2020–2021 school year and beyond, should their primary aim be to recover what has been lost, returning to a pre-COVID and pre-protest baseline? Or is now the time to reinvent our public education systems to establish a new, more equitable baseline? Can and should we attempt such reform during the continuing political, health, and economic crises? If not now, when? This Radcliffe webinar, cosponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will bring together experts from public school systems, foundations, and academia to explore these questions.

Event Video

An empty classroom. A sign with instructions on preventing the spread of viruses is posted on the door.


Kevin Godden, Superintendent and CEO, Abbotsford School District, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada

Na’ilah Suad Nasir, president, Spencer Foundation

Justin Reich, assistant professor in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing and director of the Teaching Systems Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Meira Levinson, professor of education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Kevin Godden has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students. He is committed to team work, working collaboratively with district staff and community partners to make the school district the best it can be. He still considers himself a teacher at heart, and believes, like Nelson Mandela, that the “keenest revelation into the soul of any society is manifested in the manner in which they treat their children.”

Biographical information has been provided by the program participant and has not been edited.

Meira Levinson is a professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her areas of research include civic education, racial justice, and educational ethics. She is currently working to start a global field of educational ethics, modeled after bioethics, that is philosophically rigorous, disciplinarily and experientially inclusive, and both relevant to and informed by educational policy and practice. To that end, she has recently published the white papers “Educational Ethics during a Pandemic” and “Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Sites and Sources of Community Resilience.” Levinson’s books include Democratic Discord in Schools: Cases and Commentaries in Educational Ethics (Harvard Education Press, 2019), Dilemmas of Educational Ethics: Cases and Commentaries (Harvard Education Press, 2016), and No Citizen Left Behind (Harvard University Press, 2012). She also shares educational ethics resources on, rich video materials to support higher education pedagogy at Instructional Moves, and resources for youth activists and teacher allies at Each of these projects reflects Levinson’s commitment to achieving productive cross-fertilization—without loss of rigor—among scholarship, policy, and practice. Levinson earned a BA in philosophy from Yale University and a DPhil in politics from Nuffield College, University of Oxford. Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute fellowship, and a faculty fellowship at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard.

Na’ilah Suad Nasir is the sixth president of the Spencer Foundation, an organization that supports research about education. She was a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2008 to 2019, and she served as vice chancellor of equity and inclusion there beginning in November 2015. Her work focuses on issues of race, culture, learning, and identity. Nasir is the author of Racialized Identities: Race and Achievement among African American Youth (Sanford University Press, 2011) and “We Dare Say Love”: Supporting Achievement in the Educational Life of Black Boys (Teachers College Press, 2018). She is also a coeditor of Handbook of the Cultural Foundations of Learning (Routledge, 2020) and has published numerous scholarly articles. She is a member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, of which she is also the president elect. Nasir earned her PhD in educational psychology at UCLA in 2000 and was a member of the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Education from 2000 to 2008.

Justin Reich is an assistant professor in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he also directs the Teaching Systems Lab, which designs, implements, and researches the future of teacher learning. Reich is the author of Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education (Harvard University Press, forthcoming). He is the instructor for five free, openly licensed MOOCs about change leadership in education and hosts the TeachLab podcast. He was previously the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow, leading the initiative to study large-scale open online learning through HarvardX, and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Reich is an alumnus and faculty associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. His writings have appeared in the Atlantic, Educational Researcher, Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the Washington Post, and other publications. He started his career teaching wilderness medicine, and he later taught high school world history and history electives and coached wrestling and outdoor activities. Reich earned an EdD in education policy, leadership, and instructional practice from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an MA in US history from the University of Virginia. 

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