A contingent of nearly 200 UCLA students, researchers and faculty members is headed to Philadelphia this week to take part in the world’s largest gathering of education researchers, the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, or AERA. The meeting will be held April 11–14. 

Led by Tyrone Howard, Pritzker Family Professor of Education to Strengthen Families in the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies and the 2023–24 AERA president, these UCLA scholars will share research and exchange ideas with educators and researchers from across the nation and globe, offering ideas and examples of practices that can create new educational possibilities for all students.

In setting the theme of the 2024 AERA annual meeting, Howard challenges the educational research community to engage in “dismantling racial injustice” and to construct new possibilities in education. In doing so, he calls on researchers, practitioners and policymakers to “imagine boldly what education spaces free of racial injustice can look like.”

Here, Howard shares his thoughts about the upcoming meeting.

What are your priorities for the AERA annual meeting?

A key focus is on engaging the education research community in dismantling racial injustice. In this country, at this moment, there is so much happening with racial inequities at the center of our systems of education. I want us to have a larger, nationwide discussion asking questions tied to racial injustice in education, from preschool to higher education.

Why AERA, why now?

AERA is the world’s largest association of educational researchers. It serves as an intellectual home for 25,000 people who study education research, policy and practice. It is a learning community that is engaged in very important work to improve educational opportunities — and we can do more. We need to make an impact on helping to reduce the number of students living in poverty, focus on supporting young people in foster care and address the needs of so many young people who are unhoused. These issues and others predominately impact students of color. Race is at the heart of these realities. The effects of structural racism cannot be avoided. We need to understand the impact on learning and make clear what can be done about it.

At this political moment, a lot of things are happening that are making a lot of people uncomfortable. The banning of books; the spreading of misinformation about critical race theory; anti-LGBTQ+ legislation; attacks over diversity, equity and inclusion; the efforts to limit what parts of and how American history is taught — these efforts are really about changing the purpose and function of public education.

We need to have a conversation now about public education, how we lift it up, and what we do to protect and defend it. Public education is supposed to be a core staple in democratic society. Once you let attacks on public education take hold, you are almost inviting attacks on democracy to follow.

The theme of the AERA 24 meeting is dismantling racial injustice. In your work, you have talked often about the need for equity and the pursuit of justice. What’s the role of educational researchers at AERA and beyond in that effort?

We need to show and share what the research says. We need to be bold about it, to be unapologetic about it, to talk about it and to shine a light on it. And when there are issues of justice that come about in the educational landscape, we need to weigh in on them. We need to lean in with our research and voice and say, “This is what we know, and this is what we think.”