Everyone is anxious about the upcoming school year. Parents need and want their kids in school. Teachers miss the personal interactions that define teaching. Truth be told, I think everyone misses the structure and security of having schools open. But, many people realize we don’t have control of a contagious disease ravaging our communities. Instead of drafting plans and worrying about the finer points of the hybrid model, educators need to be clear: this year will be a lost school year.
Teaching and learning hinge on trust, confidence, and connection. Whether lending a hand to help a student who tripped in the hall or crouching down inches away from a kid weeping on their desk, teaching is innately personal. Covid-19 hasn’t changed that.
Teaching is innately personal. Click To Tweet
However, Covid-19 has made the conditions for building trust and confidence evaporate in a moment. A pick-up basketball game at the park or a backyard barbeque were normal staples of life. Today, they constitute crowded and frivolous interactions. The things we used to do freely and openly without reservation have been upended, and even the simplest tasks feel awkward at best and dangerous at worst. These are not the conditions that promote learning.
For those clamoring that kids can’t go without in-person school or that kids won’t get the services they need, where have you been? It’s not as though kids have been getting the services they need anyways. There is a teacher shortage nationally. Our student-to-counselor ratio is 482:1. The American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of 250:1. Whether kids are in school or not, they aren’t getting the services they need. School is not designed to cater to the individual needs as much as it is designed to usher large groups of kids through. As it stands, we cater to the idea that every 8 year old should be in the same place academically, emotionally, and socially. And, the same is true for all the 9-year-olds, and all the 10-year-olds, and on. If a kid falls behind, we don’t have a plan. They just go on. The best we have is to make them repeat a grade, meaning they spend another year doing exactly the same thing that didn’t work the year before.
Kids have been falling behind for years without successful remediation. According to NAEP data from 2017, gaps in reading and math persist between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts, continuing a 25-year trend. Furthermore, research out of Stanford University demonstrates the role of poverty and segregation in stunting student achievement. Why is everyone so worried about kids not meeting expectations now?
Why is everyone so worried about kids not meeting expectations now? Click To Tweet
What’s new is that these fears are stretching into advantaged groups. When it was those kids over there, a lack of remediation could be shrugged off. Those kids needed to work harder; those families needed more discipline. But, when it’s the kids of powerful and well-resourced folks in society, we have a public crisis. Action must be taken.
It shouldn’t be a big deal that in the face of a global pandemic students are going to lose a year. Honestly, it seems a reasonable cost to save thousands of lives and stabilize our communities.
The problem is that we do not have a system that allows for lost time. Every minute and every hour are accounted for. Every kid and every teacher needs to be moving on a very regimented and packed time schedule.
What should we do?
First, virtual learning should open everyone’s eyes to how much goes on at school. Last spring, there was simply no way to replicate, in a virtual setting, my daily classroom routine. Virtual learning uncovered the vast amount of work that teachers were ushering kids through each day. It was a literal ton of work. It raised questions about the purpose and ends of the work we were assigning and exposed the reality that we continue to worry about the number of work students produce ahead of the work’s relevance to, and interest of, students. We need to grapple with the balance between quality instruction and quantity of instruction.
Second, the driving factor concerning the quantity of work heaped upon students was revealed this spring-testing. With testing suspended, it hastened teachers’ ability to truncate and focus their instruction, which led to more questions about why we rely so heavily on testing. Clearly, schools and teachers understood which students needed more help even when testing was no more. If teachers and schools know who needs help without standardized tests, it is a reasonable conclusion that testing resources should be reallocated more effectively.
Finally, we treat education as though it is a finite thing happening in 10-month increments. The reality is that it is a lifelong journey, a process that never leaves any student. We need to use this moment to reshape the learning experience in a new image otherwise we are going to see many more lost school years.
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