June 25, 2021

Weston Wittekind, 9 years old, struggled with knowledge gaps dating all the way back to kindergarten. He is now at grade level, thanks to a microschool set up by his mom and supported by a company called Prenda. Credit: Kate Wittekind

School is out for the summer, but many students, educators and parents are still reeling from an earthquake in K-12 education. It will take time to recover from learning loss, fractured relationships, stress and other problems caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, as we emerge from crisis mode, some see a chance to transform American education for the better.

Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush, dive into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. While Sal Khan, founder and CEO of the online learning platform Khan Academy, and a handful of parents consider the possibilities that come with an educational landscape no longer bound by time and space.

Main Takeaways:

  • Alternative instructional models tailored to students’ unique needs and interests, including small group learning pods, microschools and homeschools, flourished during the pandemic, aided by advances in technology. Reville thinks a more personalized approach is both desirable and possible within traditional public school systems too. He points to efforts by Metro Nashville Public Schools to engage with every student and family in the district, through its Navigator program.
  • When it comes to reopening schools, returning to the status quo is not an option, says Noguera. He and Reville both believe that districts need to do much more to make school meaningful and engaging for all students. They say a lot of work is also needed to restore broken relationships between teachers and students, among students themselves, and between families and schools.
  • Spellings, president and CEO of the non profit Texas 2036, points out that her state and many other red states, were intent on reopening schools as soon as possible, during the pandemic. Yet she acknowledges that the return to the classroom was unequal. Private schools with wealthy students opened the quickest, while lower income students still struggled disproportionately to access high speed broadband, she says. As Texas becomes a more populous and diverse state, Spellings says it will have to grapple with how to address achievement gaps within its schools. “We have a great hand to play but it will be predicted by how well we educate our students,” she says.
  • The question of testing in schools comes down to two distinct, but interrelated issues, according to Spellings. She says on one hand, it is an issue of transparency, while on the other, it’s about ccountability. Both transparency and accountability are key for establishing the most effective, data-backed ways to invest in schools, Spellings notes. For this reason, she is troubled by Texas’s decision to postpone A-F school ratings for this past academic year and also the next. “Policymakers will not understand where their schools are until the summer of 2023,” she laments.

More Reading: 

  • Check out some of the latest research from the RAND corporation on remote learning and teacher stress, during COVID.
  • Learn about the role of the education navigator, versus the “one-size-fits-all,” approach to supporting students. 
  • Find out about the challenges that the Los Angeles Unified School District faced  engaging its students and their families during the pandemic.
  • “To test or not to test?” That is the question debated in this piece by The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit reporting on education.
  • Curious about Texas’s local education politics? Read this piece from The Dallas Morning News for the latest on a failed virtual learning bill. 

Paul Reville, Education, Margaret Spellings, pandemic, COVID-19, k-12, Pedro Noguera, schools, Sal Khan

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