Right now, it is difficult to imagine things being worse in education. Many students are being forced into remote education, issues around racial equity are being politicized, education revenues are falling off a cliff, and thousands of educators around the country are losing their jobs.
However, every crisis is also an opportunity. As we plan and problem solve how to get through these difficult moments, we can consider that we are developing some better aspects of education. The pandemic is having a profound effect on education funding, the role of technology, student assessment, teacher evaluation, and system accountability. If we are wise, we can take advantage of this moment and fix some of the problematic issues that have plagued education.
Beginning with education funding, the pandemic has resulted in the shutting down of large swaths of the economy, limiting the revenue for state and local governments, making school funding a shrinking pool of cash. However, most folks have long recognized that school spending was increasing at a rate that would not be sustainable over the long term. This crisis could be big enough to bring all parties to the table ready to talk about real compromise and reform to create a new and sustainable model for school funding. While we’re at it, let’s demand that this new funding system be far more equitable, which would mean something less regressive than a property tax.
Nearly every family in the country has now experienced remote learning. The system having been stretched like this, can never go back to its original shape. Remote education did not work nearly as well as folks had hoped, but the experiment should open many more possibilities for virtual academies, virtual education on snow days, and hybrid education as the baseline. Imagine a four-day school week, with a fifth day done virtually — 20% of the student population at home on any given day.
Third, this pandemic has laid bare issues that we have had with common assessment practices. As school districts wrestle with how to assess students, they are realizing that their previous forms of assessment might not have been as valid or reliable as they assumed they were. This is an opportunity to create much more authentic assessments and more meaningful grading systems.
Related to the issues of student assessment are issues of teacher and principal evaluation. The notion of a scheduled observation became a nonsensical practice overnight. Quality evaluation will have to be much more thoughtful than an observation looking for key behaviors. This is an opportunity to truly re-think and have an evaluation process that is dialogic in nature, on-going, that makes use of observed data, as well as achievement of intended results.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, it has been politically difficult for policy makers to abandon the 3–8 testing regime that was intended to serve as an accountability tool. Nearly all research on these systems has shown that it has failed at its primary purpose. There could be no better time to throw out the No Child Left Behind aftermath that is ESSA and come up with a different plan. Accountability measures are important, not because we need to be able to punish low performers, but because they incent specific behaviors throughout the system. It is clear that much of the achievement gap in education mirrors the wealth and spending gaps that exist. Imagine if states were held accountable for measures of equity. What would happen if a state funded districts in an inequitable manner and it was the budget makers that were held to account?
The pandemic is a crisis, there is no doubt. Every crisis is an opportunity. When we emerge on the other side, will we have a better system than we began with, or will we simply have a poorer version of what we currently have?
The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.
- Albert Einstein