We have a new President and a new education secretary and hope for the future of public education.
Hope doesn’t come easy because schools face what appear to be insurmountable difficulties due to Covid-19. Also, wealthy individuals and groups who want school privatization are established in the system, mostly in dozens of anti-public school nonprofits, foundations, and think tanks.
We’ll be watching to see who Education Secretary Miguel Cardona chooses to work in the U.S. Department of Education and watch what happens to public schools at the State and local levels.
Here are some concerns.
Covid-19 dominates the education discussion. Governors and school officials must take the virus and school openings seriously without caving to political pressure to open schools when it’s dangerous. The virus doesn’t care what school students attend. Some studies indicate that students spread the virus.
The U.K. is reporting an influx of children with Covid-19 in their hospital wards. This trend deserves serious consideration when debating any questionable academic covid slide.
2. Teacher Shortage
Teachers have worked hard online, in-person, and using a hybrid approach. But due to the fear of in-person environments and often, because they’re left with little control, they’re retiring early.
This is a global problem. In some countries, teachers are fighting back. See: Covid fears spark revolt by unions over a return to school in England, and French teachers strike over Covid-19 risks in crowded classrooms.
Don’t be misled by charter schools advertising how they provide moral support for their teachers. Rocketship, an online school, calls their staff teachers even though they don’t have university credentials.
3. Social Justice
Many groups claim to be concerned about equity and schools. But equity is not found in school choice, where charters are mostly schools with children of color, and educational savings vouchers rarely get students into wealthy private schools.
Here’s a decent statement about social justice from Crystal Bell for Education Week in What Is Social Justice Education Anyway?
A social justice education is centered in democracy and the freedom to exercise one’s full humanity. Conceptions of equity and democracy have always been practically and theoretically connected to the field of education, which is often perceived as the greatest human equalizer. Although there is some truth to this, it is important to understand that the notion of meritocracy is flawed, especially when you come from economically marginalized communities. If you work hard and get straight As in school, it does not automatically mean that you will attain social mobility. This is the very nature of capitalism: Somebody wins, and many people lose. This is particularly true if you are from a poor or working-class community.
School boards need to work with the surrounding community to make public schools inclusive and to provide school programs that help children accept and value differences.
4. Students with Disabilities
The virus has caused extra problems for students with disabilities and their parents. Faced with in-person school dangers and staying home, parents worry more about the loss of learning and students falling further behind.
Children with disabilities don’t always do well online, and parents worry that they’ll lose their IDEA rights due to the pandemic. Teachers need to work closely with families and students, reassure them that students still have IEPs, and look for remote learning experiences that shore up students’ skills.
The Colorado Department of Education shares links that might be helpful to families and students.
This link might also answer questions about student rights during Covid-19 Special Education and the Coronavirus: Legal FAQs About IEPs.
5. School Infrastructure
Betsy DeVos displayed no interest in fixing America’s school facilities. A 2017 school infrastructure report indicates that many school facilities were not in good condition before Covid-19, contributing to schools’ reopening difficulties.
Among public schools with permanent buildings – 99% of public schools – almost a quarter (24%) were rated as being in “fair” or “poor” condition. But 31 percent of schools have temporary buildings, either in addition to or instead of permanent buildings, and the number of these schools in “fair” or “poor” condition rises to 45%. In more than 30% of public school facilities, windows, plumbing, and HVAC systems are considered in “fair” or “poor” condition. Outdoor facilities such as parking lots, bus lanes, drop-off areas, fencing, athletic fields, and sidewalks are also problematic. 36% 82 of school parking lots are in “fair” or “poor” condition, as well as 32% of bus lanes, 31% of athletic facilities, and 27% of playgrounds. More than half (53%) of public schools need to make investments for repairs, renovations, and modernizations to be considered to be in “good” condition.
In many cases, planning is lacking, as four in 10 public schools currently do not have a long-term educational facilities plan in place to address operations and maintenance. The main reason for repair, renovation, or modernization work on school facilities relates to improving energy efficiency as well as technology infrastructure.
Now’s a good time for school administrators and communities to check on school buildings’ needs and work to make necessary renovations and repairs while students are not in buildings. Or to plan for new schools and how to pay for them.
6. The Arts
Good art programs are missing in many public schools. Students experiencing mental health difficulties, including due to Covid-19, could be helped with the arts. The arts can save students with disabilities and children who are not doing well academically. There are jobs in the arts, and self-expression is good for all students.
The arts were removed from many poor schools during NCLB to focus mostly on reading programs. Now is a good time to include the arts.
President Obama started the Turnaround Arts of the Kennedy Center for the Arts, where some school children benefit from the arts, but all schools deserve an excellent art program. Fully credentialed art teachers should be helping students with art and music projects remotely.
Students need monitoring to see how they’re learning, but teachers know their students best. Teachers should be allowed to do whatever necessary assessment their students need at this time. They should be involved in determining the kind of assessment to use with students, and they can report to their school how students are doing.
Betsy DeVos called off standardized testing, and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona should follow her lead on this issue. This seems to be a good time to drop the obsession with high-stakes testing.
DeVos said Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.
When students return to school full-time, and the virus is no longer a threat, there will be enough time for standardized testing to take place. Schools should not call students back into unsafe buildings for high-stakes testing, and let’s hope the term high-stakes will finally be dropped.
Happy New Year!
Bell, C. (January, 2019 23). What Is Social Justice Education Anyway? Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-what-is-social-justice-education-anyway/2019/01