The education blogosphere, as well as the general media, is full of articles dealing with opening schools in the fall, keeping students safe, social distancing by lowering class size, doubling the number of buses, and other, expensive fixes. Additionally, schools will have to take into consideration the mental and emotional health of students and deal with the multiple traumas they will carry with them.
As of this writing (June 3, 2020), the death toll from COVID-19 in the US is over 105,000 which has left hundreds of thousands of Americans grieving for their lost loved ones. Many have had to postpone or forego funerals and memorials in order to stay safe themselves. Among those who have lost family members are thousands of children who, already traumatized by the fear of illness or the loss of contact with their friends and teachers, are further hurt by the very real loss of parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, or friends.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused economic trauma, too...and with economic trauma comes social upheaval as families living from paycheck to paycheck start to panic when the food runs out...when the rent or mortgage is due...when the insurance coverage ends.
And we can't talk about social upheaval without acknowledging the excessive number of deaths of Black Americans and the damage to communities of color by the racism present in Amerian society...racism which is exacerbated by economic trauma and political cowardice. The current political upheaval around the country will also traumatize students before they return to school in the fall, no matter how much their parents try to protect them from it.
Public schools have always been a stable force in students' lives and when the next school year begins -- whenever that is -- they will have to take on the additional role of helping students heal from multiple traumas.
How can teachers and schools help their students and likely their families, too, heal after the pandemic and the societal upheaval?
1. CANCEL THE TESTS
First, cancel the state (and other) standardized tests. We already know that standardized test scores reflect the economic conditions in which a child is raised. We can just as easily rank schools and children using their family income if ranking must be done; the results will be the same. In any event, subjecting children to the added stress of standardized tests which for some determines whether they go on to the next grade is too painful to even consider.
Why shouldn't high stakes testing be abandoned next year?
It would also waste precious instructional time, waste resources, and provide meaningless bad data. Look-- if testing really worked, if it really told us all the things that guys like Toch want to claim it does, don't you think teachers would be clamoring for it? If it were an actual valuable tool, don't you think that teachers, struggling with spotty resources against unprecedented challenges, would be hollering, "If I'm going to try to do this, at least find a way to get me those invaluable Big Standardized Test!"Note the last sentence, "...with the resources they need to do the work." Canceling the tests will save money, too...millions of dollars. With the likelihood of budget cuts coming, that's money that we can't afford to spend on wasteful tests.
But no-- in the midst of this hard shot to the foundations of public education, a lot of professional educators are taking a hard look at what is really essential, what they really need to get the job done. The Big Standardized Test didn't make the cut. We don't need the "smart testing," especially since it isn't very smart anyway. We just need smart teachers with the resources they need to do the work.
2. INTRODUCE A HEALING CURRICULUM
Second, build the new curriculum around healing...and that starts with recess and free time.
A proposal for what post-coronavirus schools should do
Play is urgently relevant to the new education world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. “Play can mitigate stress,” Dr. Yogman tells us. “The executive function skills that kids develop through play can promote resilience, and play can restore safe and nurturing relationships with parents, teachers and other children, which also promotes resilience. That’s got to be our goal when kids get back to school. At every level, in our schools, homes, and communities, our social structures have to acknowledge the magnitude of stress all families, especially those with young children will experience, and design programs that mitigate that, including lots of physical activity and play.”Schools should focus on developing good relationships between teachers and students. My 2020 Teachers New Year's Resolution #4 was Develop Positive Relationships. In it, I quoted Educational Historian Jack Schneider,
But what policy elites don’t talk about—what they may not even know about, having themselves so little collective teaching experience—is how much relationships matter in our nation’s classrooms. Yes it matters that history teachers know history and chemistry teachers know chemistry. But it also matters that history teachers know their students, and that chemistry teachers know how to spot a kid in need. It matters that teachers have strong academic backgrounds. But it also matters that they can relate to young people—that they see them, hear them, and care for them.Now, more than ever, students need consistent, caring adults in their lives. Teachers can be among those adults.
To paraphrase Schneider, above, yes, it matters that we teach reading, math, science, and history. But it also matters that teachers know their students and can spot children in need. It matters that teachers can relate to young people -- see them, hear them, and care for them. Learning improves when teachers and students form personal relationships.
3. DIVERT MONEY BACK TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Stop sending needed public funds to unaccountable private institutions. We can't afford to support three competing school systems (public, charters, and vouchers) with one pot of public funding. It's time we direct our focus on investing in our public school system.
Research | Public Funds Public Schools
A wide range of research shows that private school voucher programs are an ineffective use of public funds...Charters, as well, have proven to be an experiment that has not lived up to its promises.
Private School Vouchers Don't Improve Student Achievement...
Private School Vouchers Divert Needed Funding from Public Schools...
Private School Voucher Programs Lack Accountability...
Absence of Oversight in Private School Voucher Programs Leads to Corruption and Waste...
Private School Vouchers Don't Help Students with Disabilities...
Private School Vouchers Don't Protect Against Discrimination...
Private School Vouchers Exacerbate Segregation...
Universal Private School Voucher Programs Don't Work...
Student Achievement in Charter Schools: What the Research Says
The evidence on the effectiveness of charter schools in raising student achievement is, at best, mixed. There is no consistent evidence that charter schools are the answer to our education problems. A research literature that focuses on finding and studying "high-quality" charter schools naturally misleads the public about the average impact of all charter schools and demonstrates that academic performance in most charter schools is underwhelming.At best, charters do no better than real public schools. It's time to move the funding back to public schools where it belongs.
And yes, this means that there needs to be a change in leadership in Indianapolis and Washington. In order to divert public funds back to public education, and make sure there's enough money for our public schools -- aka our future -- we need to throw out the anti-public education politicians. Elections matter.