Dr. Mark Berends: Education, Vitalized.
Think. Pair. Share. Podcast Transcript
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You’re listening to Think. Pair. Share. with me, Audrey Scott.
I’m honored to welcome Dr. Mark Berends to the podcast. He is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame and has just been appointed director of the University’s Institute for Educational Initiatives.
Mark is an intellectual leader and an expert on the myriad factors that influence student academic achievement. His research focuses on how school organization and classroom instruction affect student outcomes, paying special attention to underserved students and school reforms designed to improve educational opportunities. His dedication to, vision for, and hope in the power of education make him an ideal person to lead the institute, and I’m excited for our conversation.
AS: Congratulations, as the new Director for the Institute for Educational Initiatives.
MB: Thank you so much. I'm just really grateful and honored. I had a chance to run into Provost, Marie Lynn Miranda, after she did the commencement. Which I thought she was just fabulous and she said,“So, how do you how do you like it?” You know, and I just said, I love it, I mean I started the best week ever with all the ACE stuff going on this summer and the T-shirt reveal and commencement. It was amazing to see our teachers and leaders, you know, go through graduation after this year. Are you kidding me? It was moving. I was just moved beyond belief. And then you know it being sort of at commencement you see all the people within the Institute are like working their tails off, you know in front of us and behind the scenes and it's like oh my gosh these people are incredible you know I'm just so so privileged to be a part of this organization. I’m excited to get going.
AS: I’m glad your first week or so has been great, and sure appreciate you taking time so early in this to chat with us, too.
Okay, we'll jump into the fun questions. First of a few rapid fire ones.
AS: Bicycle or motorcycle?
AS: Oceans or mountains?
AS: LA or New York?
AS: VW bus or slug bug?
MB: VW bus.
AS: Yes. Etch-a-sketch or slinky?
MB: Oh, Etch-a-sketch for sure.
MB: Shake, shake, shake.
AS: Excellent. Okay so that's done with the rapid fire.
MB: Oh. That was pretty good.
AS: That wasn't wasn't too hard.
MB: You were very polite with me. Mine were easy.
AS: Yours was good. If you had a superhero sidekick—who would it be?
AS: See, I told you I’d get one that was harder…
MB: Yeah, I don’t know. Ann.
AS: Perfect answer. Perfect answer.
AS: No, no, see? I was giving you a couple of soft balls.
MB: No, that’s great. That’s good.
AS: You’re doing great so far. This seems sort of timely: if you could compete in an Olympic event which would it be?
MB: 1500 meters.
AS: A track guy.
MB: Yeah, so I was a runner and still continue to run. Well, it’s more jog now then run but I was a runner through high school and I love running and I was a long distance guy and I would love to do the 1500 because you got to be really, really fast to run the 1500. Those guys and women are booking. So it's just so fun to watch.
AS: It is fun and I'm looking forward to seeing some of these things. And actually I was a runner too, but I was a sprinter so I love to watch the track and field stuff but I was always like, “Is 400 really a sprint? I feel like that's long for me,” so...
MB: It's a sprint for 300 meters and then you just hang on.
AS: If you could only take one CD—remember CDs—on a cross country road trip which one would you choose?
MB: Oh Pachelbel’s concerto… the concertos that Yo-Yo Ma did on his cello.
MB: I could listen to that forever.
AS: That is good road music. Okay, excellent choice okay great. What's a great memory of your best childhood friend.
MB: Best childhood friend, that's a good one. So growing up, I loved playing basketball and during the summers my best friend would come over and we would play for hours and hours and hours. We'd get really competitive and push each other it's like you pushed me that's a foul. I did not, you charged. It’s my ball. Stuff like that. And we would just do that for hours. And yeah we’d fight, but then we'd go and get something to drink and just start laughing about something new, because he was delightful, he was super funny, great sense of humor. He was hilarious and I really appreciate that.
AS: That's awesome. Anyone else in your high school years that you are particularly fond of?
MB: Yes, actually my wife. (Laughs) My wife, Ann Primus Berends, who we just celebrated our anniversary. We go way back to high school. She was a year ahead of me. So she was a senior. I was a junior when we met. And it sounds kind of romantic to say we are kind of high school sweethearts, it's not romantic. As my father-in-law, may he rest in peace, says you had a rocky road to the altar and we did. I mean we you know we were children. And we had to kind of grow up and become ourselves, so we were on again off again. We were engaged, broke the engagement and then. You know, finally tied the knot and I'm just so grateful for her, that she stuck with me and we're in a good place, so.
AS: That's excellent. Congratulations and happy anniversary.
MB: Yeah, Thank you. Yeah, thanks.
AS: 36 years you said?
MB: Yeah, yeah so we're gonna do the big 35th, you know, let's go to Italy. No. We’ll watch Italy on our TV inside. Maybe someday.
AS: Yes, the pandemic had other plans for you, but maybe in the future, you can still make it. That's good, okay great. I'm actually interested in that that path for you. I think Michigan to Wisconsin through Vanderbilt and then here to Indiana and Notre Dame I know that's a big question but can we get a few snapshots or tell me a little bit about that path?
MB: Yeah, you know, I mean going back to the last question when we got back together, it was, we were going to graduate from college. We had broken off our engagement, and we were getting back together. A lot of people in our families were like hmm… Not so sure about this. So we were kind of glad to kind of get in that car with a U-haul and go to Madison Wisconsin. Because we were at peace with it. We knew this was the right thing to do, and so yeah we went to Madison. We were there for several years. It was eye opening, given, you know, I was through faith based schools from kindergarten through college and it just opened my eyes and it opened my eyes to sort of the injustices in this world and sociology is a good lens to look at those kinds of things and so yeah it was great.
We loved our time in Madison and then I got this opportunity at the Rand Corporation. Rand is based in California and LA, Santa Monica, but I went to their Washington DC office, and that was a great opportunity, because I like to do research and kind of got into the policy side of it and. Policy both kind of from the school level or state level policy even federal policy but thinking about policies in different ways, and how schools are organized. And that was a great, I was like a kid in a candy store, because there was just some really interesting projects. It was a great time to be there and then I got a call from out of the blue kind of to come to see if I'd be interested in Vanderbilt and Nashville’s a great city. I don't think I can afford to live there anymore, but it was a great city when we were there. And that was a great set of colleagues to kind of be in an education school and interdisciplinary and sort of there were several sociologists in my department, but people from all over the place, and doing really interesting work. That kind of got me into looking at school choice issues when I was there and then, then I got a call from Maureen Hallinan my predecessor at Notre Dame and if you know Maureen, she was five foot nothing with this red hair and these steely blue eyes and she just called me on the phone and said, “God is calling you to Notre Dame.”
And I've been in pretty secular organizations, at that point right, so to get a call from Maureen Hallinan like that is like… okay!
AS: You better listen.
MB: I better listen and so it started a long conversation and Rory McVeigh in the sociology department and Tim, of course, Tim Scully was very influential in kind of convincing us to come here. Tim would always bust my chops about how long it took for me to say yes, but, that was great. I mean it was wonderful to come to the sociology department to be back home in the sociology department and continue to do the kinds of work that I had done. But Notre Dame is also an incredible kind of infrastructure building kind of place, and I really appreciated being able to direct the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity. So we had very high expectations, when we came here, because our kids, our two youngest, were in high school and that's not easy, of course, but it's exceeded my expectations. We're still close to our kids and they love us. In retrospect, it worked. I mean we've lived a lot of different places. It's a lot of mobility right? And that can be, not the best for kids, but we've met some interesting people and interesting places and our kids are kind of better for it according to their words so we’re just very thankful.
AS: That's good as long as they're saying that. I mean that's a win.
MB: They're saying it today. (Laughs) Just deal with today.
AS: One day at a time. Okay so much good stuff there, so if you don't mind, maybe if I pull out a few things.
AS: What drew you to sociology at the beginning.
MB: Maybe more information than you care, but I'm the sixth of six kids in my family, classic baby boomer family. I'm a tailender. You know oops.
We're going to have a sixth one. They love me very much. Wonderful people.
AS: That’s the story they're sticking with.
MB: But I did a lot of observation, quite frankly, in my family and had had older siblings that kind of planted in me kind of they didn't know it at the time but kind of a sociological perspective. And you know going through school I had, I had a teacher who I - he was like one of our ACE teachers right? He's like fresh out of college and he was young, but I, you know, I was a kid in high school. He was so cool. Just the way he taught and the way he kind of sparked the imagination, he taught sociology and psychology, that kind of always in the back of my head, you know back to my family my family was either in business or in the ministry. And so my going into sociology - my dad to his dying day never got that. He thought, he couldn’t get his head around that, he just said, I was in social work, which is a very noble profession, so I let him. You know, what are you gonna do? I mean that's great. Yeah you know, he was he was happy about that, but he never really got it. And it was actually my father-in-law who was an academic, taught theology and religion, and you know, he was the mentor on that side of my life. My dad was great. But that was kind of my family context.
AS: Lots of good material for you to study. Sounds like never a dull moment so that's that's lovely. I'm one of five, so I do sort of feel like that you can't help it sort of be a student of life and other people when you're in that environment.
MB: Yeah, you know i'm i'm middle aged and my older siblings still treat me like I’m twelve. (Laughs) What are you gonna do?
AS: Well, all good intentioned I'm sure. So okay great, so that's that's wonderful. In that same breath, is that what drew you to education, because you had that person that you could emulate?
MB: Yeah, I think, well, when I was in college, I went to a liberal arts school, Calvin College in Grand Rapids. It's a diverse school now but it, back when I went it was more of a Dutchy ethnic kind of, roots in that school, and so they were arrogant enough to call themselves Notre Dame north. (Laughs) But there, my family was in the ministry and in business and I gravitated towards that but, but it was a liberal arts school and so um I could kind of float around and, at the end I just got really interested in education and really wanted to be a teacher, but I was already a junior at that point and I thought well why not just go on and study education, and you know, sociology, I love sociology so I'll just go and study education through sociology and that's kind of what happened and I got into the University of Wisconsin and had a great advisor and great mentor and you know started the whole process.
AS: I love Madison, but you’re right, probably a departure from what you were used to.
MB: Yeah, well. You go to a faith based school, you know you study Karl Marx, but you bring it back to a Christian perspective, so you, you know appreciate some of the good, but you know, you can critique some of the bad. And it's like I go to Wisconsin. It's like there are real neo Marxist and my officemate we had, you know, got in on it in terms of our kind of philosophical grounding and that was so good for me. Just, you know, a young person that really had to kind of formulate their own ideas and kind of figure out their moral compass, and you know it just it really you know he's still a dear friend of this day, and we would go at it.
AS: That's a great testament to you and to him that you were able to sort of work through some of those...
MB: Yeah, the exposure to all that and I'm just you know they were dedicated to social justice and all of that and there's something to take away from that coming from where we're at, so I found that really helpful.
AS: Well, great and maybe this is part of that question. Did at some point you feel called to this work? Was it deeper than a career?
MB: I've been very privileged and you know, being able to, the training that I had and the early job opportunities that I had and I look at this as a calling, you know I in terms of the job opportunities I've had. Ann and I always kind of think and reflect and pray and you know, try to figure it out to hope, hopefully, the call you know is clear in some places it hasn't been. I got the call from Maureen Hallinan at Notre Dame, but it was a really tough decision for us because of where our kids were at and just weren't sure about it, but...
AS: What tipped the scales, ultimately.
MB: So when I started out the Rand Corporation, I really appreciated that as they just had an infrastructure to get research done, they could really think about the big complex questions that we have in our society. And they just put resources, you know statisticians and editors and just everybody down the line to help support really good research. And Vanderbilt had the same thing. But it was built more on kind of a stove pipe model where Mark Berends would have his thing, and you know so and so would have theirs, and I just coming from Rand it's like this doesn't make sense, we should have like statisticians and project managers that work across. That just never really happened there, but when Maureen called me, it's like there's this Center at Notre Dame that has a lot of resources from Notre Dame to get research done and, and educate and have postdocs and and I just I found that so attractive that it's like it's there already that we can have a statistician, economist that supports our work and great administrative support and other resources that we can bring to bear to further our research and it's just been, it's been great, and you know it's got faculty members that are associated with it and that's grown in the last couple years to hire some just incredible people, incredible scholars that you know they're in their new, some of them are newer out of the PhD program and so those are the scholars of the future that are doing a lot of good work on schools.
AS: I didn't have a chance to unfortunately meet Maureen, but was she a bit of a mentor figure, was she influential or inspirational to you in different ways?
MB: Actually, she was a mentor to my advisor and mentor. You know she was just so prominent in sociology. She was the President of the American Psychological Association at some point, and her work, her work spanned all kinds of different things. I mean you know networks, right now, are very big in sociology. She was one of the first people to kind of think about networks and how peers affect each other in schools and how that is structured by things like ability groups, you know if you're in the high group versus the low group, you know you have different sets of peers, and you know and then ability grouping and tracking per se was another big area and just. She did so much in different areas that it was just inspiring. You know she had very high standards. Very high. When I was in graduate school, I presented with a colleague now who's a really prominent sociologist at Berkeley and we were kids. We presented this paper at the association. And she just undressed us. Her criticism, it was like I have chosen the wrong profession. That paper ended up getting published in a very good journal. But you know, Maureen did not suffer fools. She was delightful, had an incredible sense of humor, but you better have your act together in front of Maureen Hallinan because she will, if you don't notice it, she will let you know. So, and the other thing about Maureen that I'll say is that you know when I came here her health was failing. And it was a neurological kind of condition. I ended up having lunch with her, like every other week during that time, and that was a different Maureen then, because you know we talked about work and sociology and stuff like that, but, we really talked about end of life issues and just you know pain and suffering and health issues and and you know it was just a privilege to kind of walk on that ground with her, and yeah, you know I'm glad I had that opportunity.
AS: Well, she sounds like a wonderful person and I've been enjoying all the fruits of her labor and so happy to be working alongside people she handpicked such as yourself, which has to be - if she had that high standards that must have felt pretty good that she called you personally.
MB: Yeah, I was honored. Like I said, when Maureen Hallinan calls you and you know says God is calling you to Notre Dame you pause and listen. So I'm glad I did and I’m glad I got the call.
AS: We are too. I can tell just by what you were saying there, though, that you care a lot, it sounds like she did, and you do. You could do so many things, why do you do this?
MB: The main reason is because of the people that Ann and I've been associated with over the last you know, over a decade and I know of no one - no people that are as smart, talented, committed, and dedicated to you know faith based education and teaching kids and teaching kids who have been underserved you know, for so long and it, you know they're willing to do this. It's about the mission and it's like just being around that gives me hope.
You know I've studied a lot of different school reforms over the years, and some of them are have been real clunkers and that sort of the long saga of looking at school or forums there's always something wrong with them and they don't work, but what is going on in this building with all of the ACE programs, and all of the research programs. It's just a beautiful thing because the research funnels into the programs that we do. And it has an impact in schools, particularly Catholic schools, and I just think that's a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful model and the people doing it are just incredible and so yeah, that's why I wanted to do this is. Because of the people.
We had a lot of time to kind of think about throwing my name in the hat for the Director of IEI. You know it was over a year that we had time to think and reflect about that and our prayer was just to make it clear. There's plenty of other people in this building that could be leading this and elsewhere. And so we just wanted to make it clear and from where we sit, you know it went pretty smooth. I mean it was a long process. But it was a really good process. It was a good process for me professionally to kind of think about where I'm at at this point in my career, I mean you know, as Ann Lamont would say, I'm in the third third of my career and just thinking about that and yeah I just at the end of the day it was very clear that you know we're called to do this and we're grateful and thankful, and we'll take it from here, hopefully. You know because there's just so, so many great people around here to help that happen so we got a lot of good things to look forward to.
I also like doing big projects, you know I love doing big research projects and getting people together and thinking about the complex problems that we have, and this has got projects, you know more than I can even imagine in this in the Institute so it's just it I think it's going to be a lot of fun and that we can do really meaningful work and i'm really hopeful and just really grateful to people because there's just such great people here that are doing some spectacular things.
AS: Thank you, we have lots of good work done and lots of great work to be done, so.
MB: Absolutely yeah.
AS: Let's talk a little bit about that um you have this opportunity to sort of look forward. Are there some things that you'd like to continue working on right away or how are you seeing the next bit of time?
MB: Yeah, so you know at the moment I'm new and I've been here a long time, but I haven't been in this role. So I need to listen and kind of learn what's going on. You know I've talked to people, and I think the time is right, for you know kind of thinking about strategic plans, if you will. You know, where do we want to be in three to five years, and how are we going to know that we got there, and you know there's an appetite for that, and this is, this is not some thing during the search process that came from Marie Lynn that said you shall do it's it, this is for us right, we were ready to - we've been waiting and we're ready to go. So let's kind of think big and we have the opportunity to do that and so that's that's the first thing.
The second thing is, you know our ACE programs are incredible. I’ve called them the gems of this university and we need to continue to sustain and strengthen those programs. So that's certainly on the agenda, I think people are on board with that you know so that that's part of it. I also think we, you know, we've got some really good parts of our organizational culture here, you know, given say the three pillars of base of you know, searching for excellence and spiritual growth and community. But, like any organization, especially after you know, last couple years and the pandemic, you know we got some healing to do as we kind of come out of this pandemic and I think we can work on that, and you know people, people are hungry for that so that's that's something that's a work—that never stops—you know. It's not like, check that box, you know, culture - check - we just got to continue to nurture the good side good sides of our culture.
And then the final thing I'll say is just building up the research side of the you know we've got a lot of research centers and they're doing great things in terms of using the research to build programs that positively affect kids in Catholic schools, both in the United States and around the world, and building those up and getting the research done to be able to you know further those programs and so those are the things that, initially, that you know, are on the agenda. Then we'll go through this strategic planning process and there's going to be ten other things, you know that we're whatever it is that you know we can kind of think about and set priorities and then you know get to work and go accomplish those goals. That's my hope.
AS: I like your hope. I’m hopeful too just in those same ways. That's a great framework. You said you've seen a lot of challenges and some things that do and don't work...
MB: Yeah, I've kind of come to the point in my career it's like we've got these slogans in the research world you know, particularly from the US Department of ED which I like, “What works?”, you know we really need to amp up the quality of education research, which we've done over the last 20 years and we really got to think about what works for schools or school systems and I like that, but you know, certainly we've moved it like what works, under what conditions and for what groups of students and those are really critical questions but it's still you know prefaced on what works, and I think it's more like, “What can work?” right? So, what I do right now, the last decade or so I've done a lot of work on school choice, mainly around voucher scholarship programs, like the one we have in Indiana or charter schools right. And the at the end of the day, it's like yeah they can work and they can work for all students but we got to think really carefully about the conditions in which they're implemented, you know, both from the policy down at the school level. And there's a lot of variation there's a lot of variation among traditional public schools among charter schools there's a lot of variation among Catholic schools and we just got to kind of use that variation that we see to kind of think about how to improve schools across the board. You know Catholic schools have a lot to teach public schools. Catholic schools are also learning from public schools, and so you know that's just two sectors, but I think that can hit that happens across and we got to think think more carefully and thoughtfully about that kind of going forward. Because we always like to pitch horse races like Catholic schools are the best or charter schools are the best or and I just think we need to move beyond that, to really understand the the organizational instructional conditions that are really promoting learning, not just an academic achievement tests, but learning health-wise, emotionally, physically, and academically which are proxied by test scores, but we gotta look at the whole array of outcomes. I love test scores. I’ve gotten a lot of traction out of test scores over my career but, but we do I think especially coming out of the pandemic, where we, we see the disparities that are out there and the stress that teachers and students and families have been under, and so we need to kind of broaden the indicators of our educational health, moving forward. I hope to be a part of that.
AS: I like that, ‘broaden the indicators’ - I do think that things have shifted quite a bit from maybe when we were first starting out in school. Do you like to trajectory? Where would you like to see it go? I think, at the end of the day, I can tell you're so sincere and you've worked so hard and you will continue to do so, but let's say when it's all said and done, is there a way to say yes, we have moved this forward, we are doing better for youth?
MB: I think… That's a good question. I'm not sure how to answer it quite frankly. I think that there are some ways that we have made progress. You know, but there's some things that really concern me. I think we've become much more, at least in the United States, we've become much more individualistic. Not sure we had a lot of it, but we've kind of, our sense of the common good, to our fellow human beings that's a - that's a real challenge. We get into this kind of partisan kind of world that's just gotten worse over time that we just we kind of go to our own little groups and we're happy in that and we're happy with our own individual lives within that but, once you get outside of that it's really hard to kind of build community. Across communities in a local setting all the way up to this entire country and that's a real concern for me. It's a concern for the students in our schools and what they're being taught. That's a challenge going forward.
AS: It kind of reminds me of that conversation you had with your person at Wisconsin where you were not really on the same page. Yet you were able to have fruitful conversations right, maybe difficult, but fruitful, conversations?
AS: So, that seems really hopeful to me. And I feel like with the dedication with the folks here in the Institute and at ACE, that people are willing to have those difficult conversations, people are willing to do the hard work. Do you feel that way?
MB: Yeah we're so well positioned here at ACE. Like what I was saying about the polarization of society, what draws us together here within ACE and the Institute are not our politics—it's our faith right—and you know the dedication to the mission of the Institute and that transcends a lot of things. Where you can have some deep and meaningful conversations you can gather evidence and you can plan programs, and you can monitor those programs and to make sure that those programs are having an impact on students, teachers and schools. And you know we can do that here and we're really good at it, where these are some of the best educators I have ever seen, and if you look at you know the evaluation scores of our teachers... they're off the charts. We have the research side of it that propels the programmatic side of it, but then we have educators that are just teaching so many people from leaders down to teachers down to students and there are incredible opportunities within that and there are lessons to be learned across the world from what we do in the Institute. And that's my hope is that we've got to get that word out, we got to continue to learn from others, but we got to continue to develop that because that's what gives hope. And that's what can propel us forward and that's what will ultimately build community. Because if there's one thing that the Institute's good at, it’s community and being intentional about that and we need to teach other people about that, and we have the opportunity to do so.
AS: yeah absolutely lead by example, I think. I just have been continually inspired by the people around us here and so I'm excited to kind of just keep taking those next steps and doing it together.
AS: Because you have worked in the University for some time, but not necessarily just inside our building—are there things you want us to maybe be more aware of, or of ways, we can fit inside the University, or make our or make what we're working on more helpful or visible to folks?
MB: Yeah I think I think there are. I you know I think we're at a point, I mean, we're we're a large organization. Right? I mean and we start, I mean you know 25-30 years ago that we were very, very small and so there's advantages of that, but as as we grow we've got to kind of think about how we're reaching out to people. Like anywhere, organizations, people are doing their own thing and just got to have to break us out of that to kind of think across campus and the opportunities that exist, I think, Marie Lynn wants to see more of that across the University and I think we're well positioned to be able to do that with the people we have here. We're very collaborative people. We love working with other people, but we're also in the space of education and going forward education in this country and in this world is critical. It's been critical to date, but the disparities, we have have just been exacerbated by the pandemic and we've got a lot of challenges. You know we're kind of in a bubble here at Notre Dame with our testing, vaccines, distancing, washing hands, and you know but we've been vaccinated right and and I've got colleagues around the world that - they won't see a vaccine until the end of the calendar year, you know and things are just you know, shut down, fortunately they're safe but I mean there's places in this world that have have been really struck by this pandemic and educationally, in absolutely around the world, has just taken a huge hit, and so we have programs, both domestically and internationally, that we we kind of need to up our game across campus to kind of think about new ways that we can have an influence across the world, because we have a world network too, here at Notre Dame and to be able to facilitate positive positive programs in different places, is one of Notre Dame strengths, so we really have to draw on that. The Institute is good at it, and you know we say great at it, but we can learn from people across this University who have been doing this as well, and I’d like to encourage that where it's appropriate.
AS: Sounds great. Research. How critical is research to moving the needle forward for education?
MB: I think research is just critical for education. I mean so much in education is just implementing things and doing things because they've been done before or, not very thoughtful if somebody down the street is doing it, and not all that's bad I mean but research can really inform what we're doing right, so I think about Catholic schools. I've done a lot of work on Catholic schools and Catholic school education, you know, done quantitative analysis and research and it's like Catholic schools have been really beneficial for a lot of kids. And, but when we think about, say test scores - proxies for learning - high schools do really, really well. Catholic school - Catholic high schools for a long, long time have had positive effects, on you know graduation and college attainment, particularly four year colleges. But research over the last 15 plus years has indicated that some of our K-8 Catholic schools are facing really great challenges, in terms of, particularly say in mathematics achievement. There's been national studies, some of the work I've done in Indiana has just shown these negative effects in mathematics. And it's like well, you know, maybe that's because Catholic schools have not been under “no child left behind” and not really held accountable and so these are low stakes tests and so they don't take them seriously there may be some truth to that. But I also think that you know our Catholic schools need to kind of think about it more in terms of the instruction, because you know, particularly in mathematics, Catholic schools are notorious for having teachers teach outside of their field, and and need need a lot of help with that. Well, we've got, we've got programs in place here, you know I think of the STEM Center. Math education is what they do, and so they know how to bring coaches in and think about curriculum and instruction to really amp up and help schools support their mathematics instruction and that's a beautiful thing but that's, that's research informing programs and practice and so that's one of many, many different things. Not just to point out one at the expense of others. There's so many programs like that within the Institute, where we can think about research informing the programs. Another example is Neil Boothby’s group, in the Global Center for the Whole Child. He was on a previous podcast, right but, he's using research to inform programs in places like Haiti. You know, we've we've got a great track record in Haiti in terms of literacy programs, but we also know that, you know, water and food is also an issue for these these young children in the in the Catholic schools there and so he's able to kind of run experiments around different things around that which is research really rigorous research informing practices to see what the right mix might be between you know literacy, food distribution, clean water, other issues that are just critical moving forward so that's where rigorous research is informing programs and practice. Again, we've got other models in the Institute that kind of work along those lines where they're drawing on the best practices from what we know in the research literature, to inform their programs and we're doing that. I think we need to support that even more in the Institute going forward so that our programs can get even better, so that's, I'm really excited about that. That people, people are doing it and it's - they have a lot to teach the rest of us about how to do it better.
AS: I love that research informing practice.
MB: Well in addition to just doing the research informing... that I just think communicating that you know, both within the Institute, within Notre Dame but more importantly, outside because I've done some work research in Haiti early on, with with that program and there's been so much money that has been put into Haiti to try to do good and a lot of research around it uh these reports, or, not to say that reports are you know bad, but to be you know the Haiti group were able to kind of use the research they did there to get published in a peer-reviewed journal, you know really good journal. That has just propelled further funding, because people want to fund stuff that really has an impact, and so we really have to show what we do, has an impact on teachers and schools and students. Again there's models within the Institute that follow that. We just need more of that and we need to communicate that to the outside world to show what Notre Dame is doing
AS: You don't have to convince me that communication is good.
MB: Yeah. That was a little shout out to Audrey over there. No, but it's true, I mean we, you know, I just think communication is key for some of the stuff that we're doing so…
AS: I agree.
MB: Well done you.
AS: Agree wholeheartedly. Okay, thank you so much. You mentioned the mission of Catholic education in general. Can you talk to me about why that's valuable to you?
MB: I think the mission of Catholic education is important because Catholic schools take their mission seriously. Every, every school has got a mission. Traditional public schools do too, but traditional public schools - over the last 15 years for sure - have been under strong accountability. You know, certainly no child left behind, where I remember, working with principals in Nashville, we have this program there and they said, I don't know what my mission, because we would start with a mission like what's the mission of your school and how are you accomplishing that mission what they do you have what data, do you need? And I remember principals just saying just tell me what my mission is because they were just under the thumb of accountability that they couldn't even really feel like they had the freedom to think about their mission. So that that's just one example: there's plenty of schools in Nashville that have great missions and all that but, but that was striking to me right, whereas in, you know, we did the same kind of program in private schools or charter schools. The private schools? Those principles could recite their mission verbatim without missing a beat and you know it's just is striking to me right? So back to the mission of Catholic schools: it's critical. And what I appreciate about so many of the mission statements of Catholic schools it's that they're not just about achievement scores - they're about the whole child. You know, around here, we talk about college and heaven right? And you know a lot of schools are about that, but it's a it's a more holistic view of the child, and you know it's certainly, you want students to learn. Catholic schools, historically, have been really good at that. It also opens us up to the faith based side of students' lives. So it's their social emotional learning and physical and mental health, which is so critical right now, and so the opportunities with Catholic school mission statements - it positions as so well to address educating the whole child, but it positions so well to do that now coming out of the pandemic. Catholic schools did pretty well in that. They stayed open so that's critical.
AS: I know that you're hopeful. I can just tell it and everything you've been talking about and what you're looking to the future for. What are you most grateful for right now in the landscape of education?
MB: I am grateful that we're coming out of the pandemic. I mean the United States lost a lot of people, I mean that that made me so sad and I continue to be sad about that. But we are getting on board with vaccines and coming out of it, and certainly Notre Dame is and it just gives me hope. I mean to be able to be - the first time I was able to be even outside without a mask on to see people - was just an extraordinary moment of joy for lack of a better word. And I think about the Institute, you know the teachers getting through the spring of 2020 and then we went through ACE summer. Last year, which is, you know, really difficult, but we did it and then you know these teachers and leaders going back into their schools this past year and dealing with all of the uncertainty, but now, we’re, you know, in ACE summer here. We've gathered, I mean haven't done that in months and months and months, and so it just gives me great hope going into the next year, both for the Institute and ACE and the people in our programs that, you know, we can get back to work and we're ready to do it, and you know we're we're excited to do it and it's just kind of a joyful moment to be able to have the privilege to do that in our in our schools.
AS: Thank you so much. I think that there's a spirit or an energy inside - not not only all the people that work here - but these teachers who are face to face with these students and are that direct conduit to them…
MB: Yeah, I just think that you know effective teachers really build relationships with students. I look at that in my own teaching. It's like, you got to know your content, obviously, you know, and the more content you can kind of communicate to students is great, but you gotta be able to know your students and develop relationships. I see that among our ACE teachers. I see that among the people teaching our ACE teachers. You know, they're just really effective at getting students to care about their kids and build relationships with them because then they can work with the content to reach all of them right? And so I just really appreciate that. Our teachers are extraordinary. I mean these teachers could be doing anything. I mean a lot of them started out in MED school or business school and they're now in our Catholic schools across the country. You know, and their parents are supporting them in that. I mean that's a huge service to be able to do that so we're getting this incredible talent, with this incredible dedication, this love of our students, I mean that's a recipe for success for sure. Now some of those teachers are coming back after their first year and it's a it's an existential crisis because you know they haven't failed in their life. But you know that that's the thing about coming back to Notre Dame and kind of refilling the gas tank and you know and our teachers are ready to do that and I just think especially after this last year, I just think it's extraordinary that you know it's a spirit of hope and kind of this love that our teachers have of their students and it's just so critical in effective teaching.
AS: And we are all hopeful to be on this journey with you, too, and looking forward... so thank you so much for your time today.
MB: Thanks, Audrey. Yeah. Yeah. I hope it was helpful. I hope you can string some words together.
AS: Oh my gosh. It was so lovely and I really enjoyed it.
MB: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks for doing this.