The University of Louisville’s 2020 Grawemeyer Award for Education goes to a pair of educators for their research into how to better high schools in the U.S.

Courtesy U of L

Jal Mehta

Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine co-wrote the book “In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School.” Mehta is a professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. He said he and Fine wanted to find out if there was more to a good school than math and reading scores.

“We were looking for schools that help students to flourish, think critically, collaborate — all those 21st century skills,” Mehta said.

Mehta and Fine spent six years researching, observing classrooms for hundreds of hours and interviewing more than 300 students, parents, teachers and school administrators at 30 high schools across the U.S. Mehta said they found pockets of powerful learning pretty much everywhere — at highly recommended schools where you’d expect it and at traditional public schools.

“If you have this picture in your head that there are some schools where kids are getting, you know, really sophisticated learning and lots of other schools that are not like that, I think the picture is kind of more of a polka-dotted picture,” Mehta said. “If you follow a student for a day they may have one or two classes which are really intellectually lively and engaging and a number that are not.”

Courtesy U of L

Sarah Fine

Mehta said standard tests that show whether students can do basic literacy and math are worthwhile. But he said those tests aren’t well connected to higher order thinking or authenticity of tasks. And, he said those tests do nothing for student engagement over time.

“There’s some data from the student gallop poll which shows that about 75 percent of fifth graders report being engaged in school, and by 11th grade it’s down to about 32 percent,” he said. “So the longer students are in school, the less engaged they feel and testing certainly does not help with that.”

The Grawemeyer Award from U of L comes with a $100,000 prize. The university has also announced awards for music composition, world order and psychology. The award for religion will be announced Friday.

Jonese Franklin is the WFPL Program Director and host of WFPL's All Things Considered.