Towards the end of another busy epidemic school year, young people, families, and educators take a deeper look at experiences and outcomes, including new research interrupted and incomplete learning of the early effects of distance learning.
The latest study from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research is based on test data from 2.1 million students nationwide. It shows that school closures have widened both economic and racial inequalities in education – which were already unacceptable rates before the epidemic. A particularly interesting data point shows that while most of the school districts in 2020-21 were remote, high-poverty schools suffered 50 percent higher achievement losses than low-poverty schools.
As I reflect on the last two years of the epidemic, like many, I am concerned that the epidemic has affected our youth, our teachers and our education system. Yet I warn against using a deficit frame that fails to take into account other types of learning and skills acquired by students during the epidemic, simply because they do not fit the standard of traditional measurement or the narrow structure of achievement. Furthermore, I am concerned that a false choice is being made by those who have the decision-making authority – to return to school completely privately or to commit to a completely distance education.
There is no subtlety in these all-or-nothing calls and, as usual, it is our weakest students who pay the most for the shallow policy. By rushing back to rules that consistently fail to properly serve the majority of students, we run the risk of missing out on important moments to embed greater equity and reshape our education system.
Related: Among the most injured during the epidemic were young students
As we await the creation of a new normal, students and families – especially our most vulnerable and often marginalized or marginalized – are more likely to confirm their identities, support the curve, attend to their interests and respond to their needs in a culturally relevant way. Eligible for alternatives. And the fair way. For many students, personal learning and services are essential; Other students will benefit from more flexibility and options.
Young people and educators tell us what they need. What would education and learning be like if we focused their voices?
Earlier this year, educators and students in Chicago went out to demand security in their classrooms. Boston youth asked for distance education and more epidemic safety warnings. For some black, Latino, Aboriginal, Asian American, and Pacific island families, distance learning has proven to be a welcome remedy from a racially hostile environment. Many have described distance-learning places where they are emotionally secure, welcoming and listening. In the autumn of 2021, Black and Latino parents were most skeptical about returning to school privately. Some students whose mental health needs have not been met have reported less anxiety during distance learning. For young people with disabilities, the call to go back to school in private has seemed out of place.
Also, critically, during the epidemic, educators across the country have been forced to work in volatile situations and make difficult choices. Many are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate.
As usual, it is our weakest students who pay the most for shallow policy.
And for students and educators, who live with people with immunocompromised, or other health concerns, the Covid agreement concerns remain an ever-present threat – even as many sections of society seem to have moved on.
Nevertheless, a former K-12 educator, education philanthropist leader and one who currently works with doctoral students in higher education, I personally understand and appreciate the need for learning.
Being physically present with young people means being able to perceive and understand each other’s emotions, gestures, and needs; It provides an opportunity to build inclusive and supportive communities in a way that can often be a challenge.
Even so, a narrow understanding of how, when and where learning can take place will hinder efforts to create a system that works for all students, especially students of color.
We know that education is no more. The epidemic is still here, and educators and our young people are still being affected. We need a range of options that can meet the needs of every student, especially those who have been consistently neglected.
Related: Who would you call? Distance learning helpline for teachers and parents
We should pay attention to what young people and educators are telling us: Missing the personal schooling mark, which is missing from other considerations. Many groups of students appreciated the flexible schedule and speed that allowed them to get enough sleep, manage other aspects of their lives and gain more freedom.
Let us use this moment to build a sustainable and flexible education system for the future, based on the principles of justice and liberation. Several organizations, including many in New England, are already rethinking how our education system can be smoother and more responsive for students with different needs.
Both the Highlander Institute and Learn Launch have been working year after year to design equitable, high-quality, distance and mixed learning options for students. And places like the Blackyard Learning Community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are rethinking what children learn and how.
Many of these organizations seek to explore anti-apartheid approaches and focus on radical love, justice, healing, and social and psychological education in education.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education, and both personal and distance learning models can be developed to help all young people feel employed, encouraged and supported. These choices should not be binary options.
As students, educators, families, and policymakers continue to struggle with earthquake change caused by competition for epidemic demands and other social crises, we must think about what school education has historically looked like. We must commit to building a public education ecosystem that is more adaptive, responsive and equitable.
Gislaine N. Ngounou, Ed.LD, Interim President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. She is an educator in the classroom and school districts and a leader in the professional development of educators with a focus on culturally responsive pedagogy, social justice, racial equality and community participation.
Education is produced by this piece about restructuring Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.